Locals have been urged to take iodine tablets and stay indoors after a liquid-propellant rocket engine exploded at a nuclear test site, spiking radiation levels, killing five people and injuring another three.
Greenpeace cited data from the Emergencies Ministry that it said showed radiation levels had risen 20 times above the normal level in Severodvinsk, which is about 30 kilometres from Nyonoksa, the location of the military site in northern Russia.
The environmental group said it had appealed to Russia’s consumer watchdog to establish how high radiation had risen, whether it posed a health risk to people and what had actually caused the spike.
State media reported Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom confirmed five of its staff members were killed in the accident during tests.
Rosatom was quoted as saying that a further three of its staff had received injuries of varying degrees of seriousness during the accident, including burns. They were receiving the necessary medical treatment in specialised facilities, it said.
An unidentified naval officer quoted by the Kommersant newspaper said the accident could have occurred at a testing site at sea and that the explosion of a rocket could have caused a toxic fuel spill.
— The Barents Observer (@BarentsNews) August 9, 2019
According to Norway’s Barents Observer, the explosion happened about 9am on Thursday local time.
The paper reported the site is used for the testing of liquid-fuelled engines of ballistic missiles “for strategic nuclear-powered submarines”.
Authorities in Severodvinsk, which has a population of 185,000, reported the spike, forcing a bay in the White Sea to shut down to shipping.
“A short-term rise in background radiation was recorded at 12 o’clock in Severodvinsk,” Ksenia Yudina said on Thursday local time.
However, Russia’s defence ministry was quoted earlier by state media as saying radiation was normal.
Those injured in the explosion at a military site in Severodvinsk arrived in Moscow, they were transferred in ambulances with the rear doors sealed in protective film #Russia #Moscow pic.twitter.com/eH94lg2N7w
— CNW (@ConflictsW) August 9, 2019
RIA news agency quoted the defence ministry as saying no dangerous substances had been released into the atmosphere by the explosion in the Arkhangelsk region.
A statement on the city’s website did not specify how high radiation levels had risen, but said the level had fully “normalised”.
The rocket engine explosion occurred at a weapons testing area near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk region, the Interfax news agency cited unnamed security sources as saying.
Russian media said an area near Nyonoksa is used for tests on weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles used by the Russian navy.
An official at the northern port of Arkhangelsk said an area of the Dvina Bay in the White Sea had been closed to shipping for a month because of the incident.
“The area is closed,” the official, Sergei Kozub, said, without giving further details about the reasons for the move.
Officials did not give full details about the size or location of the area that was closed, but it did not appear to include Arkhangelsk itself, a major port for the export of oil products and coal.
— Strategic Sentinel (@StratSentinel) August 6, 2019
The explosion was the second major incident to hit the military in Russia this week.
A series of blasts rocked an arms depot at a military base in Siberia on Monday, killing one, injuring 13 and prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people from nearby settlements.