US intelligence suspects that a mysterious and deadly explosion in early August 2019 was caused by Russia's efforts to recover its new nuclear-powered cruise missile after another unsuccessful test, CNBC reports, adding another twist in the saga of what exactly happened at the Nyonoksa weapons testing range.
An explosion that killed at least five people and triggered a radiation spike in nearby towns on Aug. 8, 2019, has been linked to Russia's development of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a new doomsday weapon that NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. While the prevailing theory was that the blast was caused by a failed test, US intelligence has a slightly different explanation.
"This was not a new launch of the weapon, instead it was a recovery mission to salvage a lost missile from a previous test," a source with direct knowledge of the latest intel reports told CNBC. Russia was reportedly salvaging the weapon from the ocean floor at the time of the incident.
"There was an explosion on one of the vessels involved in the recovery and that caused a reaction in the missile's nuclear core, which led to the radiation leak," said another source. This is not the first time Russia has had to go fishing for its nuclear-powered cruise missile, but this appears to be the first time a recovery effort has exploded.
A still image said to show Russia's Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile.
(YouTube/Russian Defence Ministry)
Using nuclear reactors to fuel missiles or airplanes has proven to be a "hazardous" technology that's probably unnecessary, a leading defense expert told Insider.
Russia has not been particularly forthcoming with the details, sparking concerns of a cover-up.
The death toll has risen from two to five and could potentially be higher. Russia has flip-flopped on acknowledging radiation leaks. Local authorities ordered an evacuation but then mysteriously cancelled it. Nuclear monitoring stations nearby unexpectedly went offline due to technical problems. And the system that triggered the explosion has been described as everything but the nuclear-powered cruise missile Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted would be unstoppable last year.
"This is work in the military field, work on promising weapons systems," Putin said recently, adding that "when it comes to activities of a military nature, there are certain restrictions on access to information."
Russian data on the brief radiation spike in Severodvinsk, which state authorities finally decided to release, indicated that a nuclear reactor was involved, experts said. Russia, which has a history of covering up nuclear disasters, has yet to acknowledge that this was a nuclear accident despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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