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Nyonoksa Nuclear Blast
Updated: 8/13/2019 10:58:33 AM
At the funeral of 5 victims, Rosatom chief Alexei Likhachev said: "the best way to remember them is to continue our work on new types of weapon, which will be completed without fail". In Norway, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA) says in a press release Friday evening that the agency has reasons to believe the incident in Arkhangelsk [region] caused releases of radioactivity. DSA first said it had not got any official information about releases from Russia. None of the Scandinavian measurement stations for radioactivity have seen anything unnormal, the agency says, but underlines that the monitoring will be intensified.
Officials have raised the death toll to five people in a mysterious August 8 explosion and fire at a military unit in Russia's northwestern Arkhangelsk region, as a string of blasts has rocked Russian military sites in recent days.
"As a result of the accident at a military testing range in the Arkhangelsk region involving a liquid-fuel jet engine, five Rosatom employees died," the state-run nuclear company said on August 10, raising the number of fatalities from the two reported a day earlier.
The statement said three other staff members sustained injuries and burns of varying degrees and are receiving treatment at the hospital.
That the update was released by the state-run nuclear power agency, not the Defense Ministry, added to mounting evidence of some sort of nuclear-related accident at the site.
The Russian Defense Ministry had said a fire broke out after a reaction engine exploded on August 8 "when testing a liquid propulsion system."
Regional authorities said the explosion and fire took place near the town of Nyonoksa, where a navy ballistic-missile test range for nuclear submarines is located.
There have been "no harmful chemicals released into the atmosphere," the Defense Ministry said, adding that "radiation levels are normal."
However, the nearby city of Severodvinsk, some 30 kilometers away, said a "brief spike" in radiation levels was registered after the blast.
Citing data from the Emergency Situations Ministry, Greenpeace said radiation levels had risen 20 times above the normal level in the city.
The Arkhangelsk regional news site 29.ru said that nearly all the pharmacies in the city have been emptied of iodine drops, which are used to protect the thyroid gland from certain types of radiation.
Reuters quoted two U.S.-based nuclear experts as saying they suspected the blast and radiation release occurred during the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin spoke of a year ago.
"Liquid-fuel missile engines exploding do not give off radiation, and we know that the Russians are working on some kind of nuclear propulsion for a cruise missile," Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow with the Federation of American Scientists, told Reuters.
Russian authorities have advised residents of a village to leave while clear-up work is being carried out nearby following a mysterious rocket engine accident last week that caused a temporary spike in radiation, according to a report.
Rosgidromet, the weather monitoring service, said on Tuesday its sensors in Severodvinsk - located about 30km from the test site - registered radiation exceeding background levels by "four to 16 times" on the day of the blast.
Following the explosion, Russian authorities also closed part of Dvina Bay on the White Sea to shipping for a month, in what could be an attempt to prevent outsiders from seeing an operation to recover the missile debris.
Rosatom's mention of a "nuclear isotope power source" led some Russian media to conclude it was the Burevestnik (Petrel), a nuclear-powered cruise missile first revealed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2018 during his state of the nation address along with other doomsday weapons. The same weapon has failed tests 12 of 13 times, show it as not reliable.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday told that Russian research and development in the sphere of nuclear-powered missiles "significantly surpass the level reached by other countries and are rather unique".
Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen, reporting from Moscow on Tuesday, said information had only begun emerging five days after the blast, adding that this had created a lot of confusion and prompted the emergence of conspiracy theories.
"Soon after news came out that [residents] were ordered to leave this village within the next 24 hours, other authorities in the region have said that that was complete nonsense, that there has never been an order to evacuate," Vaessen said.
"What we've been seeing in the last five days is that news and reports from different authorities are contradicting each other so we don't really know exactly what's going on."
Local authorities in Severodvinsk last week initially published information about the spike in radiation, but later deleted it and a local official said that radiation levels were not above the norm.