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How hydrogen peroxide sunk a nuclear submarine

The chemical formula of hydrogen peroxide is H2O2 which looks similar to water. Its properties however, are completely different. Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used as an antiseptic and to lighten or bleach hair.

Hydrogen peroxide is commonly sold in chemists at a concentration of 3 to 5% with water. It is stored in brown bottles to protect it from decomposing from light.

In industry hydrogen peroxide is commonly available at a 30-35% concentration. High test peroxide which is used as a propellant can be up 98+% concentration.

Well, how could this chemical sink a nuclear submarine?

Hydrogen peroxide readily decomposes when in contact with a catalyst to produce oxygen gas and water. A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction.

The decomposition of hydrogen peroxide is shown by the following chemical reaction.

Hydrogen peroxide =catalyst=> Oxygen and water

2H2O2 =catalyst=> O2 + 2H2O

The hydrogen peroxide was used to provide a source of oxygen for the fuel in the torpedoes in many Russian submarines. Hydrocarbon fuels don't burn underwater. They need a source of oxygen.

Hydrocarbon (fuel) + oxygen ==> Carbon dioxide + water + energy

The Russian Type 65 torpedo uses high test peroxide and kerosene and can reach a maximum speed of 50 knots or 93km/ hr

On August 12, 2000 during a routine naval exercise the K-141 Kursk primed one of its torpedoes to fire a dummy load.

It is thought that during the delay in firing some of the high test peroxide (HTP) propellant leaked and reacted with the copper and brass fittings. This acted like a catalyst producing oxygen and steam inside the torpedo causing a massive  build up in pressure and causing the torpedo to explode. 

Source: BBC New theory for Kursk sinking

The explosion in turn created a fire in the torpedo room. Before the sailors could extinguish the fire a second explosion ripped through the front hull of the submarine in the torpedo room producing a fatal hole. This sadly led to the deaths of all 118 officers and crew.