An official state of mourning
has been declared in the Russian city of Sarov.
Last Thursday, five nuclear specialists employed by Rosatom, Russia's state
atomic energy corporation, were killed in a blast at a military test site in northern
Russia, not far from the port of Severodvinsk.According
to the official account, the elite scientists killed in the accident -- Alexey
Vyushin, Yevgeny Koratayev, Vyacheslav Lipshev, Sergey Pichugin and Vladislav
Yanovsky -- were killed during tests on a liquid propulsion system involving
known during the Cold War as Arzamas-16, is one of Russia's secret cities.
Closed to foreigners and accessible only by special permit, Sarov is the rough
equivalent to Los Alamos, New Mexico, one of the birthplaces of US nuclear
weapons design.In other
words, the test most likely had some nuclear dimension.
And the reflexive
secrecy of the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has only further
fueled speculation about the cause of the accident.Here's
what we know: authorities in northern Russia detected a brief rise in radiation
levels following an explosion at a military training ground there, Russian
state news agency TASS reported Thursday.Severodvinsk
has a naval base and shipyard and TASS, citing emergency services, initially
said the incident began onboard a ship.The
Arkhangelsk regional governor said that the area around the explosion would not
But the reports of the brief radiation spike and the lack of
information around the incident raised immediate red flags.'An
unusual component'While the
Russian Ministry of Defense admitted something went wrong, informed observers
immediately raised questions about what, exactly, had been going on at the test
Lewis, an arms-control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International
Studies at Monterey, was one of the first to suggest that missile accident had
an unusual component.On
Twitter, Lewis linked to an August 8 picture captured by satellite imaging
company Planet Labs, showing the Serebryanka, a nuclear fuel carrier, near the
missile test site in Russia where the explosion and fire broke out.The ship's
presence, he speculated, might have been related to the testing of a nuclear-powered
cruise missile.The Serebrynka, Lewis noted, was the same ship
used to recover a nuclear propulsion unit from a failed nuclear-powered cruise
missile test last summer off Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean."We are skeptical of the claim that what
was being tested was a liquid propellant jet engine," Lewis told CNN,
referring to last week's explosion.
"We think it was a nuclear-powered
cruise missile that they call Burevestnik." The same missile is known by NATO
members as SCC-X-Skyfall.A US official has also told CNN that the
explosion was "likely" linked to the Skyfall prototype.
Donald Trump also made the connection, tweeting on Monday: "The Russian
'Skyfall' explosion has people worried about the air and around the facility,
and far beyond.
public information is available about the Burevestnik/Skyfall.
But last year,
Putin boasted of new weaponry that he claimed would render US missile defenses
obsolete. Showing a video, he said: "As the range is unlimited, the
missile can maneuver for as long as necessary."Questions
linger today about whether something dangerous has been released following this
According to the local website 29.ru, officials have shut down the
Dvina Bay in the White Sea for swimming for a month.Is it the new Chernobyl? Certainly, no massive
plume of radiation has been detected, as happened over Scandinavia before the
Soviets acknowledged the 1986 disaster.
But official secrecy often fuels fears
of a cover-up.In this case, the accident seems more
reminiscent of an incident that happened 19 years ago: the sinking of the
nuclear-powered submarine, the Kursk, led to the deaths of more than 100
sailors and was a public-relations disaster for Putin, who was still newly in
office.Today, unlike then, Putin now enjoys a
near-total monopoly on Russian media.
And the Kremlin thus far is working to
contain and control the embarrassing news about the accident at a secret
military test range.