Russian nuclear agency admits role in deadly missile blast that caused radiation spike

Experts believe blast could be caused by failed test of experimental nuclear missile Putin described as ‘invincible’

Andy Gregory
Saturday 10 August 2019 16:39
Comments
Residents living near city of Severodvinsk (pictured) are said to be buying iodine pills to combat radiation effects after explosion killed five at military site
Residents living near city of Severodvinsk (pictured) are said to be buying iodine pills to combat radiation effects after explosion killed five at military site

Russia’s state nuclear agency confirmed five of its employees were killed in an explosion at a military site that sparked radiation fears.

The accident occurred while testing “isotopic power sources in a liquid propulsion system”, state nuclear agency Rosatom said in a statement.

US-based nuclear experts believe Rosatom may have been testing an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile, which Vladimir Putin last year claimed to be “invincible against all existing and prospective” defence systems.

While officials have been deliberately obscure, data from Russia’s Emergencies Ministry showed radiation levels had risen 20 times above the normal level in the northern city of Severodvinsk, Greenpeace said.

The city’s municipal website initially stated no harmful chemicals were released and radiation levels were unchanged, before reporting a brief spike. The statement had been taken down on Friday.

Those living near Severodvinsk were said to be stocking up on iodine pills, used to reduce the effects of exposure.

Russian media suggested the blast could have occurred at Nyonoksa, a military site just 30km from Severodvinsk used to test weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles employed by the Russian navy.

Authorities had previously said two people had been killed in the incident and that a nearby city had reported a rise in radiation levels when a liquid propellant rocket engine blew up at a testing site in the Arkhangelsk region on Thursday.

They said after the incident they had shut down part of a bay in the White Sea, although public shipping information from the port of Arkhangelsk showed the area had been closed for the preceding month. It did not say why.

Two US-based experts questioned the assertion the victims had been working on a liquid rocket propellant, as such a system would not release radiation.

They said the radiation suggests they may have been working on an experimental missile with a nuclear propulsion system, which Russia calls 9M730 Buresvestnik.

A senior Trump administration official speaking to Reuters could not confirm or deny whether the victims were working on such a system, but expressed deep scepticism over Moscow’s explanation.

“We continue to monitor the events in the Russian far north but Moscow’s assurances that ‘everything is normal’ ring hollow to us,” said the official.

“This reminds us of a string of incidents dating back to Chernobyl that call into question whether the Kremlin prioritises the welfare of the Russian people above maintaining its own grip on power and its control over weak corruption streams.”

The official was referring to the 1986 explosion in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, which released radioactive airborne contamination for about nine days.

Moscow delayed revealing the extent of what is regarded as the worst nuclear accident in history.

“The bright memory of our comrades will forever remain in our hearts,” Rosatom’s Friday statement said, revealing three others were suffering burns and various injuries.

Additional reporting by Reuters

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in