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US says August Russian nuclear explosion took place during recovery of crashed cruise missile

15 October 2019

A State Department official has said that a mysterious explosion at a Russian naval test range in the White Sea in August occurred during an operation to recover a nuclear-powered missile that had crashed during a test.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

According to a report by RFE/RL, US analysts had been trying to work out what happened following contradictory statements from Russian local and federal government officials about the nature of the explosion on August 8 and the danger it posed to local residents.

“The United States has determined that the explosion…was the result of a nuclear reaction that occurred during the recovery of a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile,” US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas G. DiNanno told a United Nations committee on October 10.

“The missile remained on the bed of the White Sea since its failed test early last year, in close proximity to a major population center," DiNanno said.

The blast, at the Nyonoksa test range, sent a plume of radiation over the White Sea shipbuilding port of Severodvinsk, sending worried residents rushing to buy up iodine drops from local pharmacies. Iodine is often used as a first resort to protect the thyroid gland from being irradiated in the event of a nuclear incident.

Severodvnisk is 30 kilometres east of Nyonoksa and is home to a sizable naval presence as well as a shipbuilding factory where nuclear-powered submarines for the Russian fleet are built.

The day the blast happened, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed a fatal incident at the range, which has been used for decades by the Soviet and Russian navies for weapons testing. The ministry said that two people had been killed but gave no other details.

Two days later, the state-run atomic energy agency Rosatom revealed that five of its employees had been killed while they were conducting "technical-engineering oversight" of a test of "radioactive isotope fuel for a liquid-fuelled rocket engine."

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