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A deadly mishap in Russia's Far North, and a nuclear mystery lingers

A deadly mishap in Russia's Far North, and a nuclear mystery lingers

2019/08/13 | 17:50

(Hatha al-Youm | Iraq News)-

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

isotopes.Sarov,

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

be evacuated. 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

range.Jeffrey

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. US President

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. Not good!"Little

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

incident. 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.







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