The five nuclear scientists who died during an explosion at a secret military range in northern Russia are heroes, the Kremlin said, without confirming US speculation the mishap was related to Russia’s hypersonic missile program.
“Accidents, unfortunately, happen. They are tragic,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Tuesday. “It is important for us to remember those heroes who lost their lives in this accident.”
Experts from the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom explained the causes of the accident and gave all the relevant details, Peskov said. “I have nothing more to add to this.”
According to Rosatom, the accident took place on board a sea platform in the Arkhangelsk region last Thursday. The scientists were working on an “isotope power source” for the experimental “liquid-propellant engine.”
The test went well initially, but then the engine caught fire and exploded, Rosatom said. Three people were injured, but several others were thrown overboard by the explosion, leaving open the possibility that they might be recovered alive. That hope faded after the search and rescue operation, after which the five scientists were declared dead.
Reports of a “radiation spike” accompanying the explosion prompted frantic speculation in both Russian and Western media, though local and regional authorities have confirmed repeatedly that radiation levels remained within normal parameters and there was no danger to the public.
Washington believes that the explosion was related to Russia’s hypersonic cruise missile program, 9M730 Burevestnik (NATO codename SSC-X-9 Skyfall). One anonymous US official told reporters on Tuesday that the explosion was not nuclear but “did involve radioactive elements.”
US President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday that the US was “learning much” from the explosion, which he attributed to ‘Skyfall’, and that Washington had “similar, though more advanced, technology.”
“This is not news to us,” Peskov said. “It would certainly would be quite strange if a country – a world superpower that spends more money on defense than all the rest of the countries of the world – was not involved in such projects.”
He did not address the speculation about ‘Skyfall,’ but maintained that Russian efforts to develop missile technology were “considerably far ahead of the level other countries have managed to achieve.”
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