Russian Scientist in City Near Nuclear Explosion Warns Locals Not to Fish, Says Agency 'Committed a Crime'
An ecologist has raised the alarm over levels of radiation in a town near last week's failed Russian nuclear-powered missile test. While the Kremlin remains tight-lipped on the incident, initial reports suggest radiation levels are 16 times higher than normal in the coastal city of Severodvinsk, just east of the Nyonoksa test range.
Neither Russia's defense ministry nor its state nuclear agency, Rosatom, has clarified the type of rocket that exploded last Thursday, although it did say it happened while testing "isotope power sources within a liquid propulsion system."
Experts believed it was probably a nuclear-powered cruise missile known in Russia as Burevestnik and by Nato as Skyfall.
Alexey Klimov, a scientist specializing in nuclear energy, told Real Time TV he believed it was the Burevestnik. He took aim at Rosatom for conducting such tests on a sea platform so close to populated areas, given the country's size.
"There are areas in the Kara Sea or in the Barents Sea we could have gone to but not 30 kilometers [20 miles] from the city of Severodvinsk.
"Rosatom has committed a crime. This is my opinion, it was a crime," he told the Russian language news outlet Real Time.
"We have 185 thousand people, in [neighboring] Arkhangelsk, there are 350 thousand people. What are you doing? Don't you have access to the Barents and Kara Seas? We have great places there. You evacuate polar bears, but not us," he added.
The five nuclear engineers who died in the explosion on the White Sea Coast were buried with the Order of Courage state honor in the closed city of Sarov, 230 miles east of Moscow.
Authorities advised residents of Nyonoksa to leave the village between 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Wednesday due to work being carried out at the nearby military test site.
However, state-run news agency TASS reported that government officials claimed there was no evacuation, without giving any additional information.
These mixed messages on Russia's state-controlled media added to concern among Severodvinsk residents who panic bought iodine, which is said to reduce the effects of radiation.
Klimov told Real Time: "As a public ecologist from Severodvinsk, I advise people not to go fishing in [surrounding] Dvina Bay although you can still pick mushrooms and berries."
"I am taking this responsibility on myself, because the local media and the emergencies ministry are unfortunately not giving us accurate information," he added.
Safety concerns about Russia's testing of such a weapon persist. President Vladimir Putin boasted last year about the development of a nuclear-powered cruise missile with virtually unlimited range and the ability to penetrate U.S. missile defense systems.
Vipin Narang, a nuclear weapons expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told NBC: "Think of it like a mini Chernobyl on a missile.
"It's an air-breathing cruise missile and they put an unshielded mini nuclear reactor on it...We [the U.S.] tried this in the 1960s and gave up for a reason, and this is why. It's very risky."
Cheryl Rofer, a retired chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said a nuclear-powered cruise missile with a very small power source would be almost impossible to build and too risky because it can spread radioactive particles on the ground as it flies.
"Is it dangerous? Yes! I think the phrase 'flying nuclear reactor' tells you all you need to know. You've got air blowing through an open nuclear reactor and spewing out the back," she wrote on the Nuclear Diner website.
"I think that what has happened is that someone sold a program to Putin. The visuals are cool, and the idea of a cruise missile that can just keep cruising obviously appealed to him," she added.
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