Russian mistakes with nuclear tests

On the 8th of August 2019, an explosion triggered radiation levels to rise in the Arkhangelsk region in Russia. The explosion caused the death of five nuclear scientists, three others suffered from severe burn injuries. Russia’s nuclear energy agency confirmed that an accident took place when testing an isotope power source for a rocket engine. Evacuation of the village closest to the blast site was initiated by the Russian authorities, suggesting serious danger due to nuclear radiation.

Failed nuclear test, SSC-X-9 Skyfall Missile

The Skyfall missile

It turns out to be Russia’s latest failed test of the Burevestnik missile, also known as Skyfall caused this tragic incident. Russian President Vladimir Putin, stated the missile has an unlimited range and is able to outflank all US air defenses. However, it was just another setback. This isn’t the first time a missile test failed in Russia.

But what is Skyfall? Analysts are not completely sure, but their educated guess leads them to believe it’s a cruise missile designed around a nuclear reactor. This means it could theoretically stay aloft for months at time. The fact that the radiation levels in the area spiked after the incident, potentially reaching as far away as Norway, adds credibility to what is stated by analysts so far.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, refused to confirm speculations that the accident involved a nuclear-powered cruise missile, but he did say the incident would not set back Russias efforts to keep developing advanced military capabilities.

Peskov said that only experts could speak with authority on such matters, but added: “Accidents unfortunately happen. They are tragedies. But in this case, it’s important for us to remember those heroes who lost their lives in this accident.”

Trump’s comment confirm speculations that the weapon being tested was the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. Putin introduced the nuclear-powered cruise missile to the world in a brief animated segment during his state-of-the-nation address last year.

Not the first time the Kremlin brushed off nuclear incidents

  • 1957 Mayak reprocessing plant, Ural-region. Kyshtym tragedy: There was an explosion in a waste tank of the plant with a massive radioactive cloud, affecting the health of the regions population. Later this appeared to have caused many fatalities for cancer victims.
  • 1986 The Chernobyl disaster. This was the result of a flawed reactor design, operated with inadequately trained staff. The steam explosion and the flames released at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates of a total 4,000 deaths due to disaster-related illnesses in “the higher-exposed Chernobyl populations”.
  • 1992 Leningrad, Russian Federation. An RBMK reactor released a radioactive cloud which traveled over north-eastern Europe. Russian officials stated that there was no immediate danger as a result of the event.
  • 1997 Worker Sergei Kharitonov released photographs of cracked walls and groundwater leakage at a waste storage facility of nuclear power plant He also revealed that the plant had been dumping 300 litres of contaminated water into the Gulf of Finland annually over the years.
  • April 1997 Leningrad, Russian Federation. An RBMK reactor was shut down following the discovery of a radiation leak.
  • Autumn 2017 Ural-region, Russian Federation. Roshydromet had issued a report stating the rise in beta activity of aerosoles at all monitoring posts in South Ural from 25th Sep to 1 2017. Increase in activity was found in two aerosol samples Ru-106. The 27th and 28th September high pollution levels of aerosoles and surfaces were detected in Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don.
  • July 2019, the AS-31, or Losharik, the top-secret spy submarine, ran into trouble off the northern coast. State media said 14 sailors on board died of smoke inhalation. The Kremlin claimed its nuclear reactor was intact when it was returned to port.

Communication blackout

What happened in the Arkhangelsk region in the beginning of august was no second Chernobyl. The reactor or nuclear generator will probably be recovered without further damage to people’s health or the environment. Still, the authorities should have provided more information to locals and to surrounding countries. Everyone is aware that Russia is testing nuclear-powered missiles. It is reasonable to expect that some of the tests might fail. It is however unreasonable to expect people to trust a government that doesn’t inform its citizens after previous endangering incidents. Russians don’t trust their authorities, so why would anyone else trust Putin’s government, even in matters of life and death of his own people.



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