Russia said it’s far ahead of the U.S. in developing new nuclear-powered missiles despite a failed test that prompted President Donald Trump to boast of American superiority in the field.
President Vladimir Putin “has repeatedly said that Russian developments in this area surpass the level achieved by other countries, and are quite unique,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday on a conference call, in response to a question on Trump’s tweet. U.S. officials have said repeatedly in the past year that its military is working on such programs, so Trump’s statement offers no new information, he said.
An Aug. 8 blast in Russia’s Arkhangelsk region killed
five atomic scientists during the test of a missile engine that used “isotope power sources” on an offshore platform in the White Sea. Trump later tweeted that the U.S. “is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia” and added that “we have similar, though more advanced, technology,” without giving more details.
Trump’s comment appeared to confirm speculation in Russian media that the
weapon being tested was the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, known in Russia as the Burevestnik. Putin introduced the nuclear-powered cruise missile to the world in a brief animated segment during his state-of-the-nation address last year.
Radiation levels in the port city of Severodvinsk, near the site of the failed test, reached as high as 16 times normal immediately following the incident, according to the state meteorological service.
Gamma radiation measured at six of eight testing stations in the city of 180,000 ranged from 4 to 16 times the normal rate of 0.11 microsieverts per hour, with one observation point showing 1.78 microsieverts per hour, Roshydromet said in a statement.
The maximum reported level of radiation would be harmless and on a par with a dental x-ray, according to Jonathan Cobb, a spokesman for the World Nuclear Association.
The radiation levels at the six stations declined steeply within half an hour and were close to normal after two and a half hours according to Roshydromet. Severodvinsk is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the offshore platform where the explosion occurred.
The Defense Ministry initially reported two were killed in the accident, which it said involved testing of a liquid-fueled missile engine. The ministry didn’t mention the nuclear element.
News of the explosion set off in nearby cities and towns a run on iodine, a form of which is believed to help prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radiation. Norway said it had stepped up radiation monitoring after the incident but hadn’t detected anything abnormal. Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority said it didn’t find an increase in radiation after the incident.
The military planned and then canceled activities that would have required the evacuation of residents of Nyonoksa, the town next to the offshore site where the explosion took place, the state-run Tass news service reported, citing a local official. Previously, a local news site reported that the town would be evacuated from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
Local activists remained wary about the government’s disclosures.
“The authorities still haven’t provided enough information about the full spectrum of radiation that may have been released,” said Rashid Alimov, the head of Greenpeace Russia’s Energy Campaign. “They need to publish more comprehensive data on the event before we can know if the local population faces danger.”
(Updates with canceled evacuation plan in 11th paragraph)