Information is sketchy about the fate of the Kursk: Although Moscow insists that the vessel's two nuclear reactors hadn't failed, they've clearly been shut off, leaving the vessel unable to generate the ballast to surface. The use of the world collision, of course, begs the question of what exactly the Kursk is supposed to have struck. The Barents Sea's strategic location makes it one of the world's most heavily trafficked submarine routes, but there's no indication thus far that the stricken vessel was hit by another sub.
But the negative spin on the prospects of rescuing the crew suggests the Russian navy has learned the wiles of media management. To be sure, plenty can go wrong in a complex mission to establish an air link and an escape route from the vessel at a depth of 350 feet in Arctic waters. But diminishing the prospects for their survival means the news can't get any worse, only better.
Russian authorities report that the Kursk represents no nuclear danger to the region its reactors were shut down, and it wasn't carrying nuclear weapons. But even if it is rescued, that won't make Scandinavia a whole lot safer from the risk of nuclear disaster in the Murmansk region, where a full fifth of the world's nuclear reactors and fuel are concentrated, often aboard decrepit vessels that don't exactly inspire confidence. After all, one came close to meltdown in 1995 when an unpaid bill prompted a utility company to shut down its port electricity supply, disabling the sub's cooling system.