Russia says five killed in mysterious rocket test accident

Monday, 12 Aug, 2019

The accident occurred at a military testing range near Severodvinsk in the Arkhangelsk region on August 8.

Russia's nuclear corporation Rosatom said five employees have died and three have been treated for burns after a liquid-propellant engine exploded during a test at a military training site in the Arkhangelsk region.

Russian media have said that the rocket engine explosion may have occurred at a weapons testing area near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk region.

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.

However, local authorities in Severodvinsk released a statement Thursday that said there was a radiation spike following the blast.

It was previously reported that two people were killed in the accident and a nearby city reported a rise in radiation levels when the incident took place at the testing site in Nyonoksa.

The authorities in Severodvinsk, a city around 30 kilometres (19 miles) away from the test site, said on their website that automatic radiation detection sensors in the city "recorded a brief rise in radiation levels" on Thursday morning.

Anxious local residents stocked up on iodine, used to reduce the effects of radiation exposure. Neither of the employees who answered the phones would give their names.

In separate interviews, the experts asserted that a liquid rocket-propellant explosion would not release radiation.

Rosatom's description of the incident could indicate it was testing the nuclear-powered cruise missile Burevestnik mentioned during a speech by Vladimir Putin a year ago.

Ankit Panda of the Federation of American Scientists noted on Twitter that the missile "is suspected to have some sort of a miniaturized reactor in its propulsion unit", and added: "a crash likely resulted in not-insignificant radioisotope dispersion".

"We continue to monitor the events in the Russian far north, but Moscow's assurances that "everything is normal" ring hollow to us", said the official. MASH's reportage seemed to contradict statements made by the defense ministry in showing images of emergency responders with Geiger counters and Hazmat suits along with an ambulance evacuating at least one person.

Russia's state nuclear agency acknowledged for the first time on Saturday that nuclear workers were involved in an explosion during a rocket engine test that caused a spike in radiation in a nearby city.

A state commission is investigating the accident. An arms depot in Siberia saw 13 injured and 1 dead after a procession of blasts occurred at a military base. The BBC asked officials there why, and they said "because this incident comes under the authority of the defence ministry".