Test of Russian atomic-powered rocket engine explodes in missile test range above the Arctic Circle

On August 8, 2019, a test of a Russian nuclear-powered rocket engine for the “Skyfall” or Burevestnik cruise missile program exploded on its launch platform at the Nynonksa test range above the Arctic Circle on the White Sea.  At least five scientists and workers have been killed and dozens injured. Sustained gamma radiation was measured at multiple monitoring stations for 40 minutes to an hour, eighteen miles away in the closed military city of Severodvinsk (pictured by Михаил солобаев for Wikimedia Commons). The radiation is reported to have spiked six to twenty times above normal before documentation was shutdown.  As concern grew over the potential radiation exposure to the 500 residents of Nynoksa, the village nearest the explosion, on August 13th the Russian military ordered their evacuation but  rescinded it only hours later. Since the accident, the 180,000 residents of Severodvinsk have been seeking and ingesting potassium iodide (KI) to block the uptake of cancer-casuing radioactive iodine to the thyroid gland. Saturating the thyroid with stable iodine is a critical prophylactic for the limited radiation protection it offers the most vulnerable population (infants, young children and pregnant women). According to the American Thyroid Association, KI should always be used  as an “essential adjunct” to prompt evacuation or limited sheltering-in-place and restricted ingestion of contaminated food and water.

The Skyfall nuclear-powered cruise missile system is part of Russia’s newly developed experimental warfighting strategy where nuclear weapons could be launched and held aloft indefinitely, evasively traveling over the global at hypersonic speed by an atomic-powered ramjet propulsion system. Skyfall initially uses conventional liquid jet fuel for launch but as the cruise missile reaches supersonic speed, the air is drawn into the missile system and super-heated by the nuclear reactor to rapidly expand and discharged for hypersonic thrust. Because the super-heated air comes in direct contact with the reactor, it would be highly radioactive.  The Burevestnik cruise missile, aka Skyfall, is similar to what the United States Air Force contemplated before it abandoned nuclear-powered rockets in “Project Pluto” during the Cold War. The weight of a reactor engine raised questions. Oddly,  U.S. scientists were concerned about the populations and the environment in the nuclear weapon’s flight path being irradiated by the radioactive exhaust enroute to target.

Putin’s Kremlin has conducted numerous Skyfall tests estimated at 16 to 20 to date. All of the missiles have failed to sustain flight and crashed as radioactive reactor fragments and nuclear waste in northern Russia’s Arctic territory and sea.

At publication, there are no reports of elevated radiation being detected outside of Russian territory. However, this is a matter of ongoing discovery and concern.

Continue reading

An in-depth look at nuclear waste

A special double-edition of the Nuclear Monitor, published April 24, 2019, took a look at nuclear waste in depth. It features six articles written by Prof.Andrew Blowers OBE, Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at The Open University and presently Co-Chair of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy / NGO Nuclear Forum. Blowers looks at:

The legacy landscapes of nuclear power, where they are and how they developed: The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a semi-desert region with homesteads of settlers and homelands of Native Americans ‒ that was transformed into the heart of the US nuclear weapons program, and thus into a nuclear wasteland; Sellafield, Britain’s nuclear heartland. Sellafield’s abundant and varied nuclear waste stockpiles (including a plutonium stockpile) comprise wastes arising from the plant’s initial military function and subsequently wastes mainly derived from reprocessing spent fuel; France, La Hague and Bure — two places with a crucial role in the storage and disposal of France’s more highly radioactive wastes. As the nuclear industry in France declines and reprocessing is questioned, so La Hague will adapt to survive as the centre for management of radioactive waste. Bure is the outcome of a long and contentious process of site selection for a deep geological nuclear waste repository; Gorleben, where conflict over the nuclear waste facilities proved pivotal to the end of nuclear power in Germany; and a look into the future — nuclear’s wastelands are scattered around the world in places where nuclear activities, accidents or deliberate devastation have occurred. These areas are usually remote, or areas from which the population has been removed, as at Fukushima and Chernobyl. More typically they constitute nuclear oases where nuclear facilities and communities co-exist in a state of mutual dependency extending down the generations. Read the Nuclear Monitor here.

Continue reading