Russia: Villagers living close to ‘nuclear’ rocket accident site urged to leave homes

Villagers in Russia living close to where a rocket engine exploded last week, causing a sixteen-fold rise in radiation levels, have been urged to leave their homes while tests are carried out.

Residents of the village of Nyonoksa, in northwest Russia, were urged to leave from Wednesday.

The recommendation came from officials in the nearby port of Severodvinsk, where the accident happened at a military test site, Interfax news agency reported, quoting local officials.

Authorities said in a statement: “We have received a notification… about the planned activities of the military authorities.

“In this regard, residents of Nyonoksa were asked to leave the territory of the village from 14 Aug.”

Five nuclear scientists working for Rosatom, Russia’s state atomic energy body, were killed in the blast at a military test site on Thursday, in which three others were injured.

Radiation levels in Severodvinsk spiked by up to 16 times afterwards, Russia’s state weather service said.

With fears of another Chernobyl, medical staff who treated victims of the accident have been sent to Moscow for tests, Russia’s state-run news agency, TASS, said, quoting an unnamed medical source.

The medics had signed non-disclosure agreements about the nature of the accident, the agency added.

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TASS initially said the incident began onboard a ship, but Rosatom later admitted the experts had been testing a nuclear-powered missile at a naval test range on an offshore platform in the White Sea.

Experts believe the tests were in reality part of Russia’s attempts to build a nuclear-powered cruise missile, the 9M730 Burevestnik (Storm Petrel), nicknamed the SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO.

Last year, Russian president Vladimir Putin boasted the missile will have an “unlimited range” and be able to overcome almost any defences.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin claimed it was winning the nuclear arms race against the US, despite last week’s setback.

US president Donald Trump claimed on Twitter Washington is “learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia”, adding that the US has “similar, though more advanced, technology”.

His tweet has provoked an online storm, with critics accusing him either of revealing state nuclear secrets or bluffing about a nuclear weapons programme the country does not have.

Tensions between Moscow and Washington over arms control have grown since the US formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia earlier this month in order to test new weapons.

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