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Maybe someone who read the homonymous book that The Hunt for Red October is based on can answer this.

The officers of the Red October (except for the doctor) simulated a reactor failure and leak of radiation to force the crew to abandon the ship. But, considering it was a nuclear submarine, there should be a lot of dosimeters (radiation sensors) available to detect that there was no radiation leak.

So, how did they simulate the leak?

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

In short, it isn't simulated, it is a real, but small leak.

In the book, someone makes a small radiation leak by drilling a small hole through a thread of a connector in some part of the cooling system, a part that is under not enough pressure to leak when the reactor is not fully powered up to run the engines. Radiation detectors near the reactor are also sabotaged so they do not show this small leak. It is unsaid, but the reader is meant to presume that this has been done by the chief engineer. The fixed radiation detectors near the reactor have also been disabled. The Engineer has also tampered with radiation dose badges that all crew members wear, by exposing to an X-Ray machine in the doctor's surgery.

A few days into the plot, the doctor who is not part of the conspiracy routinely collects the badges and photographically develops them - and discovers that they show that a leak has occurred. This is part of the plan to unsettle the crew, and provide an excuse for unexpected behavior from the captain. There really is a leak, but the conspirers have made it appear bigger than it really is.

Initially the officers send some middle ranking engineers to find the leak with a hand-held detector, and they cannot because the reactor is powered down and the steam from the cooling system isn't under enough pressure to leak - so the non-conspirators do not know whether there is a leak or not, perhaps the dose badges are faulty or someone has deliberately exposed the badges to radiation. So they power up the reactor and continue the journey to Cuba.

It is only later in the plot that the leak gets bad enough to trigger a detector further forward in the submarine, that the chief engineer joins in the search for the leak and 'discovers' how the leak was made - by this time the crew is very unsettled by the leak even though the levels of radiation are low - so the leak has performed its purpose by the time it is fixed, promotes rumors of sabotage, and sets the scene for them using the reactor as an excuse to do whatever is needed later in the conspiracy.

I think it was important to the conspirators to have this take a few days to work through, as this kept the crew busy and worried, but that it was eventually found and fixed. An uncontrolled leak would have given the conspirators only few possible plausible courses of action, and at this stage they do not know how events will work out. So they manage to engineer a situation where they can use the reactor as an excuse if necessary, but only if necessary.

The book is quite long and includes all this detail - a lot of this is left out of the movie obviously, but the principal of the plot is still the same - the officers engineer a deliberate leak.

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Actually, they explicitly call out in the book that the badges were deliberately exposed to radiation (I think by the chief engineer). Using the doctor's own x-ray machine, no less. A number of radiation detectors/Geiger counters had also been messed with. The officers following Ramius were deliberately making the leak look much larger than it really was. –  Clockwork-Muse Jun 21 '12 at 17:38
    
@X-Zero: Yes, that is a good point about the tampering with the badges. I will clarify this in the answer. –  iandotkelly Jun 21 '12 at 17:41
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I haven't read the book, but I feel like it's an oversight that ended up working.

It would create a bigger disbelief to have the crew not evacuate due to the dosimeters as this would threaten their life and military career.

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