Updated: 8/29/2019 8:06:46 AM
A doctor who treated survivors of the mysterious accident has reportedly been found to be contaminated with cesium-137, a radioactive isotope that is commonly found in the wake of nuclear fission. The medical staff reportedly responded to victims of the accident wearing nothing more than face masks for protection.
Russian investigative news service Meduza reports the doctor was told he must have been contaminated on a recent holiday to Thailand. There he must have eaten seafood tainted by Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011, he was told.
Moscow continues to deny radioactive fallout from the blast is a problem. “I’m not aware of it, I do not know what doctors you are talking about,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Unconfirmed reports suggest up to 10 hospital employees have since been taken to a specialist radiation hospital in Moscow.
Norway’s nuclear treaty monitoring agency says it detected two explosions at the Nyonoksa naval weapons testing range on the day of the incident. Speaking in Helsinki last week, Mr. Putin said Moscow could not reveal everything about the blast because of its military nature. But that does not explain the potential breach of the nuclear test ban treaty. Several Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) nuclear monitoring stations in the area of the test facility were shut down.
Mr. Peskov said suggestions the explosion had produced a radioactive cloud were “absurd”. Instead, he launched an attack on independent Russian media for attempting to “distort reality”. “Have you not tried to look at the situation from a different side?” he asked. “The way the situation unfolds makes it seem like somebody intentionally wants to escalate the media coverage around this, distort reality and present the situation as if there are reasons to be worried about the danger.”
Updated: 8/22/2019 9:35:37 AM
On August 18, Lassino Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), published an interactive map (link in the first comment) simulating the possible spread of a radioactive cloud after an explosion at a military training ground near Severodvinsk 8. August.
The reason for the publication was the disconnection by Russia of two radiation monitoring stations included in the CTBTO network. These stations, located in Dubna and Kirov, stopped transmitting data to the CTBTO from August 10 - two days after the emergency near Severodvinsk.
According to the interactive map published by Lassino Zerbo, the radioactive cloud reached Moscow at 9:00 a.m. on August 10. From this moment until 15:00 on August 11 (a total of 30 hours) the equivalent dose rate in Moscow ranged from 0.1 to 1 μSv / h (yellow zone on the map).
Two more Russian radiation monitoring stations - one in Chukotka and the second in Altai - stopped transmitting data a few days after the explosion in a nuclear center near Severodvinsk. Earlier it was reported about the suspension of data transmission at stations in Dubna and Kirov. Stations in Bilibino and Peledui (Yakutia) resumed work and began to transfer data again. No interruptions in the operation of the Peledua station were previously mentioned.
When asked about the reasons for the silence of the stations, Russian officials replied that they were experiencing problems with the network and communications, Zerbo noted. According to him, this aroused the suspicion of observers that the Russian authorities are trying to limit the dissemination of information about the accident.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, commenting on Zerbo’s statements, noted that the transfer of data from stations of the national segment of the international nuclear test monitoring system is a “purely voluntary matter” for any country. He also noted that the incident in the Arkhangelsk region should not have anything to do with the activities of the interim technical secretariat of the CTBT preparatory commission.
Updated: 8/22/2019 9:08:18 AM
Novaya Gazeta reported that three of those hurt were taken to the Semashko Medical Center in the city of Arkhangelsk, which has expertise in radiation treatment, and where they were attended to by staff wearing hazmat suits. The other three were taken to the regular regional hospital. The newspaper confirmed a report published earlier in the Moscow Times that medical personnel there were not warned that the accident involved potential radiation exposure.
The patients arrived at the regional hospital at 4:35 p.m. on Aug. 8, the medical staff employee told Novaya Gazeta. They were examined in the emergency room, then each was taken to a separate operating room. An hour later, traces of cesium 137 were discovered in the ER.
“Doctors and nurses used soap solutions for decontamination. The medical staff had only face masks to protect themselves,” the employee said. Several complained afterward of tingling sensations in their faces and hands.
A bath set dosimeters buzzing, the paper reported, so service members dismantled it, loaded it on a truck and took it away. Other servicemembers cut the grass short around the hospital.
Four sensors in various locations across Russia that are in place to monitor compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty stopped reporting information shortly after the explosion, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal, but at least one has since resumed.
An editorial in the newspaper Vedemosti criticized the lack of information from the government. “The authorities offer one answer to all the questions: The radiation level in the area of the blast is not excessive, the rest is not your business,” it read. “The authorities’ apparent unwillingness to present all necessary information about what happened and its consequences to society and international experts begets only new suspicions that someone is hiding something.”
Cesium-137 found in ER room is an especially dangerous fission product because of its high yield during fission, moderate half-life, high-energy decay pathway, and chemical reactivity. Because of these properties, cesium-137 is a major contributor to the total radiation released during nuclear accidents. Its half-life of about 30 years is long enough that objects and regions contaminated by cesium-137 remain dangerous to humans for a generation or more, but it is short enough to ensure that even relatively small quantities of cesium-137 release dangerous doses of radiation.
Updated: 8/22/2019 8:05:17 AM
Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that a recent deadly explosion at a military testing site in northwestern Russia hasn't posed any radiation threat, but he remained coy about the circumstances of the mysterious incident. Speaking after talks in Helsinki with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Putin emphasized that neighboring nations haven't recorded any spike in radioactivity. "These are the objective data," he said. "These things can be tracked."
Russian officials' changing and contradictory accounts of the incident drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world's worst nuclear disaster.
The Russian Defence Ministry at first denied any radiation leak in the incident even as the authorities in nearby Severodvinsk reported a brief rise in radiation levels and advised residents to stay indoors and close the windows.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CNTBTO) said earlier this week that several Russian radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the explosion in Nyonoksa. Lassina Zebro, the organization's executive secretary, said Tuesday that the two Russian stations reported to be offline were back in operation and are now backfilling the data. Observers said that several stations coming offline at the same time appeared to reflect a coordinated effort to conceal the radiation data, which could help identify the technology that was being tested at the time of the explosion.
Updated: 8/17/2019 10:43:10 AM
The Moscow Times reported on Friday that the doctors who treated engineers were affected by a recent explosion near a missile test site last week were not warned of the risk of radiation poisoning. The Moscow Times also reports that the physicians were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements by the FSB, the Russian security apparatus.
Eight days after the blast local woman told regional news source 29.ru that military emissaries had been sent to establish which of the 500 villagers were in Nyonoksa when the explosion occurred. She said: "There were messengers in military uniform. They wrote down the names of everyone who was here on 8 August. We were told doctors from Moscow will come here to see us." The report said such medical checks had never occurred previously, even though the village is next to a weapons testing range at land and sea.
The Burevestnik (“Storm Petrel”) is designed to evade the U.S. or any other defenses, flying for hours or even days to exploit holes in missile defense networks that most weapons can’t reach. Russia hadn't tested the weapon in nearly a year—until last week, that is. The missile is known to the U.S. intelligence community as the KY30, or the SSC-X-9 "Skyfall." In November 2017, a "moderately successful" test of Skyfall resulted in several Russian ships fishing debris and nuclear materials from the Barents Sea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin officially announced this weapon's existence back in March 2018, describing the missile, later named Burevestnik, as having "unlimited range and unlimited ability to maneuver." With 13 test flights and only one successful, the nuclear-powered cruise missile is still in what will likely be a long developmental period. It may never enter service.
Updated: 8/16/2019 3:26:57 PM
The three injured men arrived at the hospital around 4:30 pm, naked and wrapped in translucent plastic bags. The state of the patients made staff suspect they were dealing with something very serious. But the only information they had at the time was that there had been an explosion at a nearby military site around noon.
“No one — neither hospital directors, nor Health Ministry officials, nor regional officials or the governor — notified staff that the patients were radioactive,” one of the clinic’s surgeons told The Moscow Times by phone this week. “The hospital workers had their suspicions, but nobody told them to protect themselves.”
The official reaction has included initial denials that radiation spiked at all, and an announcement four days after the accident that the village of Nyonoksa, close to the military site, would be evacuated. Authorities later denied that they had ever ordered villagers to leave. The lack of information has led to confusion among locals, who reportedly scrambled to buy up all of the iodine, a chemical used to limit harm to radiation exposure, in the Arkhangelsk region.
They are not the only ones who have been left confused and demanding answers. Four male doctors at the Arkhangelsk hospital — two in senior positions — and a medical worker told The Moscow Times that its staff has been left shocked and angered by the events that took place. The doctors spoke on condition of anonymity, citing a period of heightened attention by Russian security services.
The doctors working in the hospital were offered a trip to Moscow for tests. All four doctors said that about 60 of their colleagues, including four or five paramedics who had transported the patients to the hospital, took up the offer. The first group flew to Moscow hours after the meeting with the Health Ministry representatives, they said.
According to three of the doctors, including both senior sources, one of the doctors flown to Moscow was found to have Caesium-137 — a radioactive isotope that is a byproduct of the nuclear fission of uranium-235 — in their muscle tissue. One of the sources said the affected doctor had told him so directly, though he was not informed about the amount or concentration of the isotope found.
Updated: 8/16/2019 2:15:27 AM
Tiny amounts of radioactive iodine have been measured in air at our air filter station in Svanhovd in Northern Norway. The level detected is very low and poses no harm to people nor the environment.
At present, it is not possible to determine if the last iodine detection is linked to the accident in Arkhangelsk last week. DSA continues more frequent sampling and analysis.
A number of seawater samples taken in and next to a ventilation pipe on Russian submarine Komsomolets have shown a level of radioactive cesium that is far higher than levels normally found in the Norwegian Sea. The highest level which has been measured in these seawater samples was 800 000 times higher than normal, Norwegian DSA released last month on their website (https://www.dsa.no/en/news/94845/releases-from-the-sunken-nuclear-submarine-komsomolets). Other samples of seawater collected from the same pipe during the expedition did not show any elevated levels.
Updated: 8/13/2019 10:58:33 AM
At the funeral of 5 victims, Rosatom chief Alexei Likhachev said: "the best way to remember them is to continue our work on new types of weapon, which will be completed without fail".
In Norway, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA) says in a press release Friday evening that the agency has reasons to believe the incident in Arkhangelsk [region] caused releases of radioactivity. DSA first said it had not got any official information about releases from Russia. None of the Scandinavian measurement stations for radioactivity have seen anything unnormal, the agency says, but underlines that the monitoring will be intensified.
Published Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Officials have raised the death toll to five people in a mysterious August 8 explosion and fire at a military unit in Russia's northwestern Arkhangelsk region, as a string of blasts has rocked Russian military sites in recent days.
"As a result of the accident at a military testing range in the Arkhangelsk region involving a liquid-fuel jet engine, five Rosatom employees died," the state-run nuclear company said on August 10, raising the number of fatalities from the two reported a day earlier.
The statement said three other staff members sustained injuries and burns of varying degrees and are receiving treatment at the hospital.
That the update was released by the state-run nuclear power agency, not the Defense Ministry, added to mounting evidence of some sort of nuclear-related accident at the site.
The Russian Defense Ministry had said a fire broke out after a reaction engine exploded on August 8 "when testing a liquid propulsion system."
Regional authorities said the explosion and fire took place near the town of Nyonoksa, where a navy ballistic-missile test range for nuclear submarines is located.
There have been "no harmful chemicals released into the atmosphere," the Defense Ministry said, adding that "radiation levels are normal."
However, the nearby city of Severodvinsk, some 30 kilometers away, said a "brief spike" in radiation levels was registered after the blast.
Citing data from the Emergency Situations Ministry, Greenpeace said radiation levels had risen 20 times above the normal level in the city.
The Arkhangelsk regional news site 29.ru said that nearly all the pharmacies in the city have been emptied of iodine drops, which are used to protect the thyroid gland from certain types of radiation.
Reuters quoted two U.S.-based nuclear experts as saying they suspected the blast and radiation release occurred during the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin spoke of a year ago.
"Liquid-fuel missile engines exploding do not give off radiation, and we know that the Russians are working on some kind of nuclear propulsion for a cruise missile," Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow with the Federation of American Scientists, told Reuters.
Russian authorities have advised residents of a village to leave while clear-up work is being carried out nearby following a mysterious rocket engine accident last week that caused a temporary spike in radiation, according to a report.
Rosgidromet, the weather monitoring service, said on Tuesday its sensors in Severodvinsk - located about 30km from the test site - registered radiation exceeding background levels by "four to 16 times" on the day of the blast.
Following the explosion, Russian authorities also closed part of Dvina Bay on the White Sea to shipping for a month, in what could be an attempt to prevent outsiders from seeing an operation to recover the missile debris.
Rosatom's mention of a "nuclear isotope power source" led some Russian media to conclude it was the Burevestnik (Petrel), a nuclear-powered cruise missile first revealed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in March 2018 during his state of the nation address along with other doomsday weapons. The same weapon has failed tests 12 of 13 times, show it as not reliable.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday told that Russian research and development in the sphere of nuclear-powered missiles "significantly surpass the level reached by other countries and are rather unique".
Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen, reporting from Moscow on Tuesday, said information had only begun emerging five days after the blast, adding that this had created a lot of confusion and prompted the emergence of conspiracy theories.
"Soon after news came out that [residents] were ordered to leave this village within the next 24 hours, other authorities in the region have said that that was complete nonsense, that there has never been an order to evacuate," Vaessen said.
"What we've been seeing in the last five days is that news and reports from different authorities are contradicting each other so we don't really know exactly what's going on."
Local authorities in Severodvinsk last week initially published information about the spike in radiation, but later deleted it and a local official said that radiation levels were not above the norm.
Nyonoksa Nuclear Blast Facts
Affected Area: 100 km.
Alert Level: Red
Category: Nuclear attack
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