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Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile blows up, creating “mini-Chernobyl”

A serious man sits behind a microphone at a desk.
Enlarge / Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on August 5, 2019 that Russia could be “forced” to develop new missiles if the US does the identical, after Washington pulled out of a Chilly Warfare-era nuclear arms deal. Now a type of weapons has brought about a nuclear accident.

On August 8, throughout testing aboard a barge within the White Sea close to Nyonoksa, Russia, the nuclear engine of an experimental nuclear-armed cruise missile exploded, killing two technicians and injuring six others. On August 11, officers of the Russian nuclear company Rosatom acknowledged that 5 staff had died within the explosion of what they described as “an isotopic power source for a liquid engine installation.” The top of the nuclear analysis middle, Valentin Kostyukov, known as the 5 “national heroes.”

As of in the present day, it’s believed that the demise toll has risen to seven. The victims have been described as affected by burns, and most have been thrown into the ocean by the explosion; all of them possible suffered from radiation burns.

The nuclear-powered cruise-missile program was introduced by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on March 1, 2018, throughout an deal with to the Federal Meeting. Putin described the weapon as a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile with basically limitless vary, supposed to defeat any ballistic missile defenses deployed by the US.

Together with the Poseidon nuclear-powered torpedo, the missile—since named the 9M730 Burevestnik (“Petrel”)—was a response to the US’ departure from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the continued growth of ballistic missile defenses. These defenses embrace the deployment of the US Navy’s Aegis anti-ballistic missile capabilities ashore in Romania and deliberate future deployment in Poland.

The Burevestnik (which NATO experiences beneath the identify of SSC-X-9 “Skyfall”) has been present process testing at Nyonoksa, in Russia’s far-northern Arkhangelsk Oblast, since at the very least January of this yr. Nyonoska has been the location of testing for submarine-launched ballistic missiles and different naval missiles because the 1960s and is close to Severodvinsk—dwelling to the shipyard the place Russia’s final plane service, the Admiral Kuznetsov, was severely broken in a floating drydock accident. It is usually the house to one in every of Russia’s nuclear-submarine shipyards, the place the mothership for the Poseidon torpedo was lately launched. The accident brought about a 30-minute spike in radiation ranges detected in Severodvinsk.

Déjà vu another time

Rosatom officers’ description of the engine as “an isotopic power source for a liquid engine installation” is a reasonably indirect reference to a nuclear-missile engine. However because the opposition paper Novaya Gazeta identified, “This is a fairly precise description of Burevestnik’s nuclear powerplant.” The Burevestnik’s propulsion is, in response to Novaya Gazeta and different sources, a nuclear scramjet very like that initially envisioned for the US navy’s SLAM program of the early 1960s. That effort, which geared toward constructing a hypersonic cruise missile able to dropping a number of warheads whereas flying at low altitude, was shut down by the Kennedy administration as a result of the weapon was seen as too provocative.

Not like SLAM’s Tory nuclear engine, which relied on air passing straight by the nuclear core of the engine, the Burevestnik’s engine makes use of a liquid metallic to each cool the reactor and switch the warmth to air passing by the scramjet. The US researched the usage of metallic and salt-cooled reactors for nuclear-powered jets and space-based nuclear reactors within the 1950s, however Russia quickly took the lead, first deploying a lead-bismuth cooled reactor aboard the K-27 experimental submarine, launched in 1962.

Even with isolation of the nuclear reactor from direct contact with the air, nevertheless, the exhaust of such an engine would inevitably embrace some nuclear contamination—which is why Russia has been testing the Burevestnik offshore. It will be, as Novaya Gazeta described it, a “small flying Chernobyl.”

The 5 killed within the accident—Evgeny Koratayev, Vyacheslav Lipshev, Sergei Pichugin, Alexei Vyushin, and Vladislav Yanovsky—have been posthumously awarded unnamed state honors.

Translation of Novaya Gazeta supplied by Robinson Mitchell

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