Medical News No sign radiation from a missile explosion has spread beyond Russia

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Medical News

By Adam Vaughan

Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrating a rendering of a new cruise missile in Moscow in March 2018Marat AbulkhatinTASS via Getty Images
An explosion at a missile testing range in north-western Russia killed five people working for the state nuclear energy agency and saw radiation levels spike locally, but there is no sign the radiation has spread to other countries.
The Rosatom scientists were thrown from a sea-based platform after fuel caught fire at the military facility near Severodvinsk on 8 August, Russian news agencies reported. In a statement, Rosatom said the work was “related to a radio isotope power source”. Observers have speculated it could have been a nuclear-powered cruise missile that Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke of last year.
“Russian authorities have confirmed the involvement of radioactive materials in the accident, but not the specific weapons system that was being tested,” says Ankit Panda at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. “It’s important to clarify that the radiological event in this case is not due to the presence of nuclear weaponry, but what may be a prototype nuclear propulsion unit for a cruise missile.” He believes the difficulties and dangers of such a system mean it may never see deployment.

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Radiation levels in Severodvinsk, 25 miles away, jumped for nearly an hour, at levels of up to 2 microsieverts per hour, which is below levels considered dangerous. A statement on the city’s website reported a “short-term” spike on Thursday, but the statement had been removed by Friday.
The Russian city of Severodvinsk was the site of an explosion that led to local radiation spikesITAR-TASS News Agency/Alamy Stock Photo
People in the city of 185,000 were reported to have bought up all supplies of iodine, which can prevent radioactive iodine from accumulating in the thyroid gland. Ambulances reportedly carrying the victims of the explosion were driven by people in chemical protection suits, in video posted on Twitter.

The explosion was also detected by seismic and infrasound monitors used by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in Austria.
Though it brings to mind the spectre of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown, when Russia authorities did not acknowledge the disaster until radiation was detected in Europe, no radiation from the recent incident appears to have reached Europe. The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority says it has detected nothing unusual yet, and the UK’s radiation monitoring network, RIMNET, told New Scientist it has had no reports of other countries recording increases in radiation levels.
“Lack of detection by Norway and Finland so far makes us assume only trace concentrations may reach Europe,” says Rashid Alimov at Greenpeace Russia. Modelling by Ivan Kovalyets at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine suggests only small concentrations might reach into Ukraine.

More on these topics:
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