The possible melting of nuclear fuel aboard an icebreaker was averted last November, preventing a nuclear accident in the northern port of Murmansk, the newspaper Water Transport said Saturday.

The official Soviet newspaper Vodny Transport, or Water Transport, said the twin-reactor nuclear icebreaker Rossia was in Murmansk harbor taking on food supplies in the Arctic port and carrying out a "potentially dangerous nuclear operation" when the chief physicist gave an "erroneous command."The command, apparently to open a drain valve, set off what the article called in its headline, "four minutes of nuclear danger."

"The chief enginer-operator, N. Bogdanov, then opened not only the throttle but also the drain valve on the second reactor," the thrice-weekly trade newspaper said, explaining that the Rossia has two reactors.

"In case of further mistaken actions of the personnel, the reactor would have remained without cooling and the fuel might have melted," the newspaper said. "It means that the first barrier of safety might have been broken.

"Radioactivity would have spread over (the ship) and the icebreaker would have had to be taken from operation for a long time," it said.

The newspaper noted that "thanks to the emergency protection and the further actions of the crew, the situation was stabilized."

The article was another sign of the Soviet Union's willingness to engage in self-criticism.