After two days of silence, Russia on Saturday (August 10th) acknowledged the nuclear nature of the explosion that occurred Thursday on a missile launch base in the Far North. The balance sheet of the explosion has been revised upwards, now settling at least five dead.
The Russian nuclear agency Rosatom has announced in a statement that five members of its staff were killed in the blast, adding that three other people, victims of burns, had been injured.
She said her staff provided engineering and technical support for the "isotope energy source" of the missile engine, while the army did not describe the accident as involving nuclear fuel.
After the accident, the Russian Ministry of Defense had only indicated that the facts had occurred during the testing of a "liquid propellant rocket engine" and had reported two "dead specialists as a result of their injuries "and six others injured.
Increase in radioactivity
On Saturday, as the balance sheet was revised upwards, it was unclear whether the five deaths mentioned by Rosatom also included the "specialists" whose deaths had been announced by the army.
On the side of the authorities, they have so far published little details about the accident that affected the base of the village of Nyonoksa, opened in 1954 and specialized in missile testing of the Russian fleet, including ballistic missiles.
If the Russian army and a spokesman for the regional governor had declared that "there was no radioactive contamination", the town hall of Severodvinsk, a town of 190,000 inhabitants about thirty kilometers from the base, had as for it assured on its website that its sensors had "recorded a brief increase in radioactivity".
The post was however removed from the website of the town hall, which also did not specify up to what level was the radioactivity.
A local civil defense official, Valentin Magomedov, told the TASS news agency that the radiation level had risen to 2.0 microsievert for 30 minutes, the regulatory exposure limit being 0.6 microsievert per hour. .
Greenpeace Russia has issued a letter from officials of a nuclear research center giving the same figure. They claim that the radiation lasted at least an hour, without it posing health risks, they say.
On Friday, residents of Severodvinsk nevertheless rushed on stocks of iodine and iodine sold in pharmacies.
"The events of yesterday (Thursday) upset the city." said Elena Varinskaya, a pharmacist in the city. "People have panicked and in an hour all the stocks have been sold," she says, adding that she has "distributed cards containing all the rules to follow in case of radioactive contamination".
"No danger" for users
An unsecured video was relayed by Russian media. They claim that the file shows lines of ambulances crossing Moscow to a center specializing in the treatment of radiation victims.
According to the Rosatom nuclear agency, the wounded are treated in "a specialized medical center".
An expert from Moscow's Institute for Nuclear Research, Boris Zhukov, told the RBK newspaper website that isotope power sources are mainly used in the space industry and usually pose no danger to users.
"If they are damaged, people around them could be injured," he says, adding that "different elements can be used as fuel in isotopic sources: plutonium, promethium or cerium."
However, according to him, the levels of radioactivity involved have "absolutely nothing comparable with those of serious accidents in reactors."
The worst nuclear accident in history took place in 1986 in the Soviet Union, in the Ukrainian Chernobyl plant. The authorities were then accused of trying to hide the scale of the disaster for several weeks.