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Russia's Mystery Explosion May Be a Big Deal

Possibly worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, though much smaller
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2019 9:40 AM CDT
File photo of Russian President Vladimir.   (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

(Newser) – A deadly explosion rocked the Nenoksa Missile Test Site in Russia last week, and Moscow has offered shifting accounts of what happened. A new report in the New York Times might explain why Moscow is being so cagey: This might have been the region's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, though on a much smaller scale. Specifically, US intelligence officials think a nuclear-powered cruise missile exploded just offshore, or at least a prototype of one that is near and dear to Vladimir Putin's heart. On Sunday, officials of a Russian research institute confirmed that a nuclear reactor exploded, though they did not say it was linked to cruise missile tests. Seven people were killed, including five scientists. The institute says only that they were working on "small-scale sources of energy with the use of fissile materials.”

It's not just US experts who suspect this involved an experimental cruise missile. A UK scientist tells the Guardian that independent experts think the blast came from the failure of a missile NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall and Russia calls the 9M730 Burevestnik. Putin boasted of the weapon in 2018, saying its nuclear source would make it virtually unstoppable. However, international nuclear experts have remained skeptical about whether such a missile could actually work. The Times phrases the biq question like so: "Beyond the human toll, American intelligence officials are questioning whether Mr. Putin’s grand dream of a revived arsenal evaporated in that mysterious explosion, or whether it was just an embarrassing setback in Moscow’s effort to build a new class of long-range and undersea weapons that the United States cannot intercept." (Read more Russia stories.)

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