5 killed in Russian missile test explosion

Erika Holt
August 13, 2019

Russian Federation has given no official explanation for why the explosion of a rocket engine near the White Sea in northern Russian Federation would have caused radiation to spike. It was not immediately clear if the five fatalities cited in a Saturday statement by Rosatom were all in addition to the previously reported deaths.

Rosatom said the accident occurred during tests on a liquid propellant rocket engine on Thursday, RIA reported.

The accident left three other people with burns and other injuries, Rosatom said.

The Nyonoksa site carries out tests for virtually every missile system used by the Russian navy, including sea-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and anti-aircraft missiles. The defence ministry initially said that six defence ministry employees and a developer were injured while two specialists died of their wounds.

They said they suspected the incident occurred because of a mishap during the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile at a facility outside Nyonoksa.

The defence ministry insisted that "there have been no harmful chemicals released into the atmosphere, the radiation levels are normal". However, the radiation level started decreasing by 12:30 pm and returned to normal levels at around 2 pm, Rosatom said.

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It is unlikely that a liquid-propellant rocket engine explosion alone would cause a rise in radiation levels, leading to speculation about what really happened. The officials said this did not present any significant risk to public health. Severodvinsk is the site of a shipyard that builds nuclear-powered submarines.

"If they are damaged, people who are nearby could be hurt. Isotope sources use various types of fuel: plutonium, promethium or cerium", Zhuikov said.

The radioactivity levels involved are "absolutely not comparable with those during serious accidents at reactors", he added.

Residents of two northern Russian cities are stocking up on iodine that is used to reduce the effects of radiation exposure after a mysterious accident at a nearby military testing site, regional media have reported.

"Everyone has been calling asking about iodine all day", one pharmacy was quoted as saying by 29.ru, a media outlet that covers the Arkhangelsk region.

The Soviet Union was the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster when, in 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine released radioactive contamination for nine days.

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