Russian authorities clear villages near nuclear test site as it emerges radiation levels rose after recent blast

Matthew Bodner
A view shows a board on a street of the military garrison located near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk Region - REUTERS

As concerns over another possible nuclear incident in the Russian Arctic grow, authorities in Arkhangelsk region have asked residents of a town near a missile test range to evacuate their homes tomorrow while the military conducts “planned activities,” it has been reported.

“We have received a notification... about the planned activities of the military authorities,” the Interfax news agency quoted local authorities as saying.

“In this regard, residents of Nyonoksa were asked to leave the territory of the village from August 14.”

The town was the site of a mysterious blast on August 8. Initial reports suggested the explosion went off at the test range, but more recent official statements place the incident on a platform just offshore. 

The nature of the blast, which killed five nuclear scientists, has not yet been established.

However, suspicion has generally fallen on a failed test of Russia’s Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile - called "Skyfall" by Nato.

The weapon was announced by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, in a speech last year.  Donald Trump, the US president, on Monday night claimed America has a more advanced version of the weapon.

The Kremlin, in its first comments on the situation, countered by saying Mr Putin has made it clear that Russia has the best technology in this field.

The evacuation of Nyonoksa suggests that, despite an apparent failure of some kind of nuclear or radioactive device last week, the Russian military is preparing for another test.

People gather for the funerals of five Russian nuclear engineers killed by a rocket explosion in Sarov Credit: Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation ROSATOM via AP

Moving locals out of the area is seen as tacit recognition that something dangerous is being tested. 

The Ministry of Defense has repeatedly said no toxic substances were released in last week’s explosion. This was contradicted by monitors in the nearby town of Severodvinsk, who reported a brief jump in radiation levels.

The Severodvinsk city government statement quietly disappeared from the city government’s website over the weekend.

But, on Tuesday, Russia’s federal weather service confirmed that radiation levels jumped to 16 times their normal level on August 8 for a period of two hours. 

The TASS news agency reported Tuesday that medics who treated those wounded by the August 8 explosion have been sent to Moscow for medical examinations. Unconfirmed videos of the medical response teams last week showed them wearing hazmat suits.