Russian officials give conflicting orders to evacuate near suspected nuclear accident
Russia urges villagers to leave nuclear fallout area and then tells them to come back.
- Residents of Northwestern Russian villages were told to evacuate after a nuclear-powered engine exploded.
- Russian authorities originally stated they saw radiation levels spike to 16 times above normal.
- Other reports from officials stated there was no spike and also no need to evacuate, creating confusion for villagers and international reporters.
Earlier this week, Russian authorities initially ordered the evacuation of a village nearby the nuclear accident in northern Russia, fueling international fears that the explosion was more dangerous than previously thought.
At least five nuclear specialists were killed (possibly seven), with a significant amount of radiation spreading. Apparently, a small nuclear reactor exploded during a test of a new kind of missile. There has been a great deal of contradictory messages being released from Russian officials and scientists involved with the work.
First, the incident was reported as the result of a fire from a liquid-fueled rocket engine, before Russian officials conceded only a few days later that a nuclear reactor was leaking on an offshore platform in the White Sea.
The reports have only become more convoluted as Russian authorities now seem to have called off the evacuation of the village of Nyonoksa.
Downplaying the nuclear incident
Russia is no stranger to nuclear catastrophe nor are they averse to outright denying claims of gross misconduct.
Russian state news agency TASS recently reported that the evacuations were just called off. Valery Mashenkov, head of administrative department for the village of Nyonoksa, told TASS that villagers wouldn't be required to leave their homes anymore.
The only official response so far from the Kremlin was a simple "accidents happen." Spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether or not the nuclear accident was related to the nuclear-powered cruise missile known as Burevestnik or Skyfall.
Ignoring the potential crisis at hand, Peskov instead remarked that this accident didn't hamper their development of further advanced weaponry.
"Accidents, unfortunately, happen. They are tragedies. But in this particular case, it is important for us to remember those heroes who lost their lives in this accident."
Peskov reinforced President Vladimir Putin's assertion that in their efforts to advance nuclear technologies, they are "considerably far ahead of the level other countries have managed to achieve."
Suspected site of the nuclear explosion
Nyonoksa is a small village 30 miles west of the port of Severodvinsk on the White Sea. News of the official, planned evacuation became public on Tuesday, August 13th, before it was reneged.
Rosgidromet, the Russian meteorological agency, initially reported that radiation levels were anywhere from four to 16 times higher than regular levels in the vicinity. The Russian military at that time told state new agencies that the radiation levels were normal.
The deputy head of Severodvinsk, Irina Sakharova, told TASS that "Everything is calm at Nyonoksa, life goes on."
Conflicting reports from Russia
Some speculate that the nuclear reactor fell into the water. Aleksandr K. Nikitin, a researcher from the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, thinks that might be the case. But he was quick to remark, "There are mostly questions without clear answers."
Officials are still claiming that radiation levels are not elevated and there is no need for a displacement of the village.
The governor of the Arkhangelsk region, Igor Orlov, echoed these sentiments and stated to the Interfax news agency, "There is no evacuation. That is complete nonsense."
Residents from Nyonoksa were told they'd be leaving on a special train to evacuate their village. Russia's official reason was for unspecified "planned" activities at a nearby military testing range. But supposedly, this didn't go through, as a later announcement from Severodvinsk city officials stated, "Yes, indeed, they informed us that the military had canceled tomorrow's activities."
While we can only speculate, it seems that the "military activities" were a cover for the nuclear accident. Under the auspice of this ruse, villagers and others affected by the radiation fallout would have been evacuated. But as far as we can tell now, those plans have been halted.
Russian authorities wouldn't reveal what type of weapon was related to the nuclear accident. But they have at least officially acknowledged that some radioactive materials and a nuclear reactor were involved in the incident.
- Why the World May Be Safer with More Nuclear Weapons - Big Think ›
- Mysterious radiation leak traced to Russian facility - Big Think ›