Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/MIKHAIL SVETLOV
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/MIKHAIL SVETLOV

Moscow — Radiation levels near the site of a failed missile test on Russia’s White Sea reached as high as 16 times normal immediately following the August 8 incident, according to the state meteorological service.

Gamma radiation measured at six of eight testing stations in Severodvinsk at 12pm ranged from 4-16 times the port city’s normal rate of 0.11 microsieverts per hour, with one observation point showing 1.78 microsieverts per hour, according to a Roshydromet statement. The World Nuclear Association estimates the hourly dose from flying at about 9,000m in North America is 3-4 microsieverts.

The radiation levels at the six stations declined steeply within half an hour and were close to normal levels by 2.30pm, according to Roshydromet. Severodvinsk, a city of 180,000, is about 40km from the offshore platform where the explosion occurred.

The blast killed five atomic scientists during a test of a missile engine that used “isotope power sources” on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk region, close to the Arctic Circle, the state nuclear monopoly Rosatom said over the weekend. The defence ministry initially reported that two were killed in the accident, which it said involved testing of a liquid-fuelled missile engine.

The ministry did not mention the nuclear element.

News of the explosion set off a run on iodine in nearby cities and towns, 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 had not detected anything abnormal. Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority said it didn’t expect to find an increase in radiation after the incident.

US President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the US “is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia” and added that “we have similar, though more advanced, technology,” without giving more details.

Russian media have speculated that the weapon being tested was the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, known in Russia as the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin introduced to the world in a brief animated segment during his state of the nation address in 2018.

Bloomberg