Five scientists killed in a mysterious nuclear blast in Northern Russia last week were buried on Monday. Questions remain about the incident, but U.S. officials believe it may have involved work on a new nuclear-powered cruise missile, and could have contaminated the region with radioactive waste.
The scientists were employed by the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, a research institute run by Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation. They were posthumously awarded the Order of Courage, a state award that honors “brave actions committed while performing one’s military, civic or professional duty with risks to one’s life.” “We laid to rest our colleagues that tragically died testing a new special product,” Alexei Likhachyov, head of Rosatom, said in a statement Monday. “They passed like true heroes.”
He didn’t clarify what kind of “special product” his employees were testing, fueling speculation that it may have involved a new weapons system and done more damage than reported.From silence to panic Russia’s Defense Ministry initially claimed the explosion last Thursday was just a test of liquid-fuel rocket engine gone wrong. The Ministry said the blast at a military testing site on the shore of the White Sea had killed two people and injured six, but the word “nuclear” never made an appearance. The administration of Severodvinsk, a city about 25 miles away from the site, reported radiation readings spiking on its website within hours of the incident. The report was later deleted, which only fueled suspicion about the blast. The next morning, local port authorities declared nearby Dvinsky Bay closed to shipping for a month. According to the Reuter news agency, a team from the East Asia Non-Proliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies identified the nuclear fuel carrier ship Serebryanka inside an “exclusion” zone near where they explosion occurred. The vessel is often used to collect radioactive waste.At the same time, anonymous posts on the Telegram messaging app included videos showing what appeared to be people in hazmat suits tending to the injured. Users claimed that several people were transported to a specialized Moscow hospital with severe radiation poisoning. Igor Orlov, the governor of the Arkhangelsk region where Severodvisnk is located, tried to calm the public by saying radiation levels in the region were normal. “It was confirmed by all government agencies, all monitoring systems,” he said. But by Friday evening, pharmacies in Severodvinsk and Arkhangelsk had run out of iodine, as concerned residents rushed to take precautions against radiation poisoning and stock up on medicine that can mitigate damage of radiation.