Russian nuclear agency says five killed in accident at test site

Cheryl Sanders
August 12, 2019

Two people were killed and six - including a rocket engineer and a military specialists - were injured in what the Kremlin said was a test missile crash at a military testing site near the Northeastern Russian city of Severodvinsk, The Guardian reported.

It was the first official word that the agency, Rosatom, was involved, Reuters reports.

The accident occurred in the far northern Arkhangelsk region during testing of a liquid propellant jet engine.

Greenpeace cited data from the Emergency Situations Ministry that it said showed radiation levels had risen 20 times above the normal level in Severodvinsk around 30 kilometers from Nyonoksa. The Defence Ministry has said back then that two people were killed in the accident.

A source told the Vedomosti newspaper that the accident occurred during testing of an engine used by a sea-launched missile now in use by the Russian navy.

It was not immediately clear whether the death toll reported by Rosatom included the fatalities announced earlier by the defence ministry.

Professor Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said his "working hypothesis" was that the blast was related to the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, known by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation as SSC-X-9 Skyfall.

Officials have been drip-feeding information about the blast on a platform in the White Sea off northern Russian Federation that caused a radiation spike in a nearby city. The officials said this did not present a significant risk to public health.

"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.

Rosatom said that the injured were being treated at a "specialised medical centre".

"I think the radioactive contamination was fairly weak and the consequences will be [felt by] the people who were at the scene of the incident itself. Isotope sources use various types of fuel: plutonium, promethium or cerium", Zhuikov said. Russian Federation maintains a veil of secrecy around its military installations in the region, near where its northern fleet, including nuclear submarines, are stationed.

Contacted by telephone by RFE/RL, one pharmacy in Severodvinsk reported being sold out of iodine as of August 8.

In 1986, the Soviet Union suffered the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl, a disaster that authorities initially tried hard to cover up.

Other reports by iNewsToday