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A top official at the Russian institute where five scientists were killed in a missile test last week has confirmed the explosion involved a small nuclear reactor.
Russian authorities have been drip-feeding information regarding the accident since last Thursday (August 8) when the incident took place.
The blast occurred during a test of a missile that used ‘isotope power sources’ on an offshore platform in Russia’s White Sea. Russia’s RIA news agency reported rocket fuel caught fire after the test, causing the missile to detonate. The Defense Ministry initially reported two deaths, but didn’t mention the nuclear element.
Institute Director Valentin Kostyukov said in a video statement – posted in Sarov, a city devoted to nuclear research less than 250 miles from Moscow – that the men who died were ‘the elite of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center and have tested under some of the most incredibly difficult conditions’. Vyacheslav Soloviev, scientific director of the institute, said they are working on small-scale power sources that use ‘radioactive materials, including fissile and radioisotope materials’ for the Defence Ministry and civilian uses.
Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom named the five killed as Alexei Vyushin, Evgeny Koratayev, Vyacheslav Lipshev, Sergei Pichugin and Vladislav Yanovsky – The Moscow Times reported that a memorial service was held today (August 12).
According to Greenpeace, the explosion caused a 20-fold spike in radiation in the nearby city of Severodvinsk – whereas Russian officials said radiation levels remained normal.
Following the explosion, nearby towns and cities saw an uptake in iodine sales – which is believed to prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radiation. Norway reported that they were monitoring radiation levels but hadn’t found anything out of the ordinary.
Pia Vesterbacka, director at Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, told Time that it was unlikely the country would see any radiation spikes due to southerly winds and the generally large distance from the explosion.
The New York Times reported that American intelligence officials are racing to learn more about the incident, and speculate that this was a test of a new type of nuclear-propelled cruise missile hailed by President Vladimir Putin – which NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, known in Russia as the Burevestnik – which can, due to its nuclear reactor, reach every corner of the Earth easily.
Several reports from the Pentagon in the US have cited Russia’s growing development of nuclear missiles as a particular threat to note, due to the fact they can weave an unpredictable path at a low enough altitude to remain undetected by certain antimissile systems.
Russia has an iffy history of reporting the facts in nuclear-related incidents. In 1986, following the core reactor explosion at Chernobyl – in the then-Soviet republic of Ukraine – officials maintained that the death toll from the incident stood at 31. However, it is considered the worst accident in the history of nuclear power – Greenpeace estimates that anywhere between 93,000 and 200,000 people have died due to Chernobyl.
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