The accident near Severodvinsk: Berlin appreciated the force of the explosion

The accident near Severodvinsk: Berlin appreciated the force of the explosion

What happened on August 8 at a military training ground near Severodvinsk? The German authorities made their conclusions about the leakage of radiation in the White Sea, and a German expert evaluated the strength of the explosion for DW.

After the accident in the White Sea on August 8, which resulted in the deaths of several people and a surge of radiation, at the military training ground near Severodvinsk, “everything is pretty quiet,” says Ann Pellegrino. A researcher at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies in Monterey (USA), along with colleagues using satellite imagery, is still observing the landfill near the village of Nenox.

American experts, they said, were unable to detect any signs of Russian military or civilian nuclear experts trying to resume work at the site of the explosion. True, the expert adds, due to the frequent change of weather in the region, effective monitoring is hardly possible in principle. “They probably returned from testing to calculating,” DW Pellegrino said.

Recall that on August 8 an explosion occurred at a naval military training ground in the closed waters of the White Sea near Severodvinsk, the reasons for which are still surrounded by a veil of secrecy. Initially, it was assumed that the accident occurred & nbsp; during the testing of a new type of weapon. Presumably we are talking about & nbsp; “Petrel” (in & nbsp; NATO designation - Skyfall) - a cruise missile with a nuclear power plant, the creation of which in March 2018 was announced by the president of & nbsp; Vladimir Vladimir & nbsp; Putin.

According to the version of events shared today by the majority of DW experts interviewed, the Russian Defense Ministry and Rosatom employees did not test, but tried to lift a rocket from the bottom of the sea after a failed test. When these tests took place is unknown.

One of the first versions of the rescue operation was put forward by Michael Koffman, a senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), a fellow at the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Science Center. Kofman does not exclude that an underwater drone with a nuclear power plant, which the Ministry of Defense is developing as part of the Poseidon program, can be a test sample. Later, a similar version was put forward by US intelligence.

However, according to this version, on August 8, the rescue operation was unsuccessful, resulting in the death of at least 7 people - two employees of the Ministry of Defense and five nuclear scientists of Rosatom. According to various sources, 6 to 9 people were injured. As a result of the explosion, a sharp jump in radiation was recorded. But it’s hardly possible to understand its true scale.

Five monitoring stations of the international system for monitoring nuclear tests proved to be faulty for several days immediately after the incident near Severodvinsk. The Russian authorities explained the disconnection of five of the seven stations as "communication problems." A few days later, Roshydromet specified that such elements & nbsp; like strontium, barium and lanthanum got into the atmosphere.

The German authorities also relied on Roshydromet for information, which follows from the response of the German government to the request of the Bundestag deputy, chairman of the environmental committee Sylvia Kotting-Uhl from the Soyuz-90 / Greens party.

Based on the data on the release of radionuclides into the atmosphere in Berlin, it was concluded that the nuclear mini-reactor was somehow involved in the accident, and not, as previously stated by representatives of Rosatom, a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). Due to the presence of RTG decay products, a possible source of radiation in the White Sea can be ruled out, experts say.

From the response of the German government, it became clear that Berlin trusts the Roshydromet more than the statements of the Russian Defense Ministry and Rosatom. MP Cotting-Uhl believes that this is a logical choice: “The Russian weather service seems relatively reliable. Even in the case of the release of ruthenium in 2017 (the alleged accident at the Mayak plant. - Ed.), It provided information that brought together no creation of a smoke screen by the Russian authorities. "

During the ruthenium incident, the German federal authorities actively informed the public about their findings, after the incident near Severodvinsk - no, the deputy was surprised: “It seemed obvious that, nevertheless, the German federal government may have carried out its own radiological analyzes.”

The German government also has approximate calculations of the force of the explosion at a Russian military training ground. At the request of DW, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of Peace and Security Policy in Hamburg (IFSH), physicist Moritz Kütt, converted them to TNT: as a result of a chain reaction, especially if it was quick, the explosion could correspond to detonations from 75 to 750 kilograms of TNT. In this case, the leakage of uranium itself, according to calculations, was probably insignificant: about & nbsp; 4 milligrams of uranium.

However, on this basis it is impossible to draw conclusions about the total mass of uranium in the reactor, Kutt noted. He believes that the mini-reactor using prototypes of Russian weapons is comparable to American designs for civilian use in space exploration: "These reactors use 30 to 50 kilograms of nuclear fuel." & Nbsp; & nbsp;

No one still has an exact answer. The German government has two versions on this score: an accident during the operation of a mini-reactor or another incident that led to a radiation leak. A chain reaction could be triggered by an attempt to pull a test sample of a weapon from the water: contact with air could lead to a tragedy, Moritz Kütt explained. In particular, an explosion could have occurred as a result of a leak in the reactor coolant.

The rocket’s power plant probably consisted of a liquid-sodium fast neutron reactor as a coolant, Anne Pellegrino suggested. “Liquid sodium gives a violent, explosive reaction when it comes into contact with both water and air,” Pellegrino explained to DW. An explosion from the contact of liquid sodium with water or air could provoke a chain reaction in the reactor and radiation leakage.

It seems obvious that on August 8 an attempt was made to lift a rocket that had sunk after unsuccessful tests, continues Michael Kofman. Given the nature of the operation, Kofman is not sure whether the reactor could even work at that moment. The expert suggested that the cause of the accident could be the disconnection of the control rod of the reactor, which caused an uncontrolled chain reaction.

The lack of traces of further leakage suggests that the reactor is still at the bottom of the sea, experts say. "The rocket must still be lying in the bay," DW Coffman said. The fact that the emergency reactor may be at the bottom of the sea is of concern to experts. "Water perfectly protects against neutron radiation, but everything else is quite problematic," said Kofman, noting that the presence of the reactor in the sea entails negative consequences for the environment.

Western experts interviewed by DW are skeptical about the prospects for the Petrel missile project. A missile with a nuclear power plant may be ready by 2025, according to U.S. intelligence. “But if the developers’s problems are related precisely to the power plant, then everything can drag on for a lot longer,” warns Ann Pellegrino.

"To some extent, I understand why they are working on it, but given the lack of breakthrough, I do not expect the Skyfall project to ultimately succeed," predicts Michael Kofman. The whole thing, in his expression, is in the unfavorable correlation between the price of the project and the advantages that it promises the Russian army. & Nbsp; Referring to publicly available information, Kofman concluded that "the rocket & nbsp; did not pass a single successful test and gives few advantages in comparison with long-range cruise missiles. "

After passing through passport control at the Dityatki checkpoint, the first stop along the route in the 30-kilometer exclusion zone is the village of Zalesye. Garden trees have grown into a real forest. Thickets even central streets. Before the Chernobyl accident on April 26, 1986, about 3 thousand inhabitants lived here. They were evacuated to the Borodyansky district of the Kiev region. Over time, several people returned to the village without permission.

The explosion with the emission of radiation at a military training ground in the White Sea was an unsuccessful test of the Burevestnik missile, experts from California with whom DW spoke were sure.

What did the military work on in Severodvinsk on August 8 during an explosion at a training ground? If they test the Petrel missile, then they are wasting time and life, the German professor is sure.