According to an unnamed U.S. intelligence source, a stray nuclear missile was “likely” the cause of a mysterious explosion that killed 7 people in northern Russia last week.
Russian authorities have given conflicting information about the explosion and whether it was triggered by testing of their new nuclear cruise missile, which is intended to fly long distances and go around air defense missile systems.
The U.S. official also said that increased levels of radiation – higher even than were found in the area of the Chernobyl accident — had been detected in areas near the site of last week’s explosion, leading US officials to believe that a test of the nuclear cruise missile gone awry was the cause.
The missile does not carry a nuclear warhead, but it does have nuclear powered propulsion system.
However, that is still speculation, and it remains unclear if the radiation levels and the explosion were linked to a possible launch of the new missile system.
President Trump has tweeted about the incident. “The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia,” the President tweeted. “We have similar, though more advanced, technology. The Russian “Skyfall” explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”
The missile system in question is called the 9M730 Burevestnik by Russia and the SSC-X-9 “Skyfall” by NATO. The cruise missile features a small nuclear-powered engine that enables it to fly long distances and conceivably allows it to circumvent missile defense systems.
First unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 1, 2018 as being “invulnerable” to missile defense systems, Russia has continued promoting the program. Last July the Russian Defense Ministry released video of what it said was a successful missile launch as well as images of the missile under development.
However, U.S. officials have said that the missile is not operational and has experienced multiple crashes, including a crash in the Russian Arctic. If the explosion was indeed caused by a failed Skyfall missile test, it would be emblematic of the problems the Russians are having with the development of the system.
The U.S. had a similar nuclear-powered missile in development in the 1960’s but abandoned the project as “unfeasible.”
Russians Admit to Explosion Amidst Conflicting Explanations
Last Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged there had been an explosion at the Nenoksa Missile Test Site along the coast of the Arkhangelsk region in northwestern Russia that killed two service members and injured six others. The Ministry said the explosion was triggered by a test of a liquid fueled propulsion engine.
TASS, Russia’s state news agency, reported that the explosion occurred on a floating launch platform off the coast.
But Russian authorities cloaked the incident in secrecy and have released few and conflicting accounts in state media.
According to ABC News, Nenoska’s local government initially posted a report of a spike in radiation at the site on its website, but that report was later removed after the defense ministry said no elevated radiation levels had been detected.
Late Sunday, the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, which operates under Russia’s state atomic agency, Rosatom, confirmed that the test involved the testing of nuclear power sources and that five of the center’s specialists had also died in the explosion and three more were injured.
Alexander Chernishev, the Center’s deputy director, said in a video interview that its experts had recorded a spike but that it only lasted an hour.
“No lingering nuclear pollution has been recorded either by our experts or external ones,” Chernishev said.