The U.S. detected a powerful explosion at the Nyonoksa test site in Russia on August 8 that experts believe occurred during a test of a new Russian nuclear-propelled missile referred to as the SSX-C-9 Skyfall by NATO and as the 9M370 Burevestnik (Storm Petrel) by Russia. Radiation in the area spiked up to 16 times the normal level.
Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed the existence of the missile last year.
Theoretically, a missile fueled by a nuclear reaction could strike any target on planet Earth. But the challenges of building such a missile are daunting and Western experts believe developing the missile to be beyond the technological capabilities of Russia.
The explosion was handled in typical Russian fashion: they denied everything and then sought to minimize what happened when the truth was exposed.
There was a spike in radiation immediately after the explosion on Friday, briefly elevating levels up to 16 times higher than normal in a city 20 miles from the Nenoksa Missile Test Site on Russia’s northern Arctic coast. Russian authorities only officially acknowledged this spike on Sunday, three days after the accident. Nenoksa’s local administration had posted a notice on its website immediately after the blast, warning levels had spiked two times above normal. But this notice was then deleted after Russia’s defense ministry denied levels had increased.
Russia’s state weather service, Roshydromet, later acknowledged that the spike had sent radiation levels 4 – 16 times above the norm. But it appears the spike was also brief, lasting no more than 2 hours, before the lives returned to normal, according to Roshydromet.
Norwegian authorities detected tiny amounts of radioactive iodine a week after the blast, giving rise to fears that there was more danger from the blast than the Russians were reporting. But the amounts were small, and it appears that the danger had passed — for now.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump bragged on Twitter that the U.S. has “similar, but more advanced technology.”
The United States is learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia. We have similar, though more advanced, technology. The Russian “Skyfall” explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2019
Nuclear policy expert David Burbach called Trump’s bluff:
It is a bad idea for the President to tell the world the U.S. has secret nuclear powered super-weapons and that we've been lying about that for years. Especially if we don't actually have them, which we almost certainly do not. https://t.co/pK0sNPRpeg
— David Burbach (@dburbach) August 12, 2019
The question isn’t so much is Russia really developing a nuclear-powered missile, but rather do they really know what they’re doing?
The Burevestnik has the greatest chances for creating a real disaster, a fact picked up immediately by none other than the former oligarch and Putin critic-in-exile, Mikhail Khodorkovskiy. In a short video response delivered almost immediately after Putin’s presentation, he zeroed in on the Burevestnik when he highlighted Putin speaking “of tests that have already taken place of a new missile that supposedly has an on-board nuclear engine. And where did these tests take place? Overhead of the territory of Russia.”
“And of this missile with an on-board nuclear motor – what is that exactly? It is a missile that has a five millimeter internal canister that holds a wildly dangerous radioactive substance and if that missile crashes into some hill—well you can yourselves clearly imagine that this is a territory that will be permanently contaminated. I do not know, but does he [Putin] understand this? And the people who are listening to him—do they understand this? These people who are watching and applauding. You people—do you realize that you are being told that Chernobyl is flying overhead above you?”
Putin revealed the existence of the Burevestnik in March 2018 when he also announced several other “super-weapons” that no Western experts believe are anywhere close to being operational. This video of the explosion from several vantage points makes the statement “Chernobyl is flying overhead above you” frighteningly real.
Is it irresponsible for Russia to test this weapon? After all, as the Chernobyl accident showed, much of northern Europe would also be affected by nuclear fallout. Putin’s massive inferiority complex about Russia’s relative weakness compared to the West could be driving his government toward another nuclear disaster.