Nyonoksa/Burevestnik Update

The two barges involved in the August radiation accident in the White Sea are being towed to a radioactive waste storage site on the Kola Peninsula. It is not known whether they hold the reactor responsible for the explosion and short burst of radiation measured in Severodvinsk.

The United States government has concluded that the incident was pretty much as has been speculated, a nuclear accident of some sort as a nuclear-powered missile was being recovered. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas G. DiNanno told a United Nations committee on October 10 that this was the US conclusion, but it was only two sentences.

The United States has determined that the explosion near Nenoksa, Russia, was the result of a nuclear reaction that occurred during the recovery of a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile. The missile remained on the bed of the White Sea since its failed test early last year, in close proximity to a major population center.

Nothing to indicate what kind of nuclear reaction or how the United States knows this. The news is that they believe the failed test was in early 2018. The nuclear reaction was most likely a criticality incident, but we still don’t know enough about the reactor to speculate much about that. It’s possible that the government has overhead photos of the test or the recovery, perhaps alerted by someone in Russia who knew the schedules.

Background on the story.

Photo: Submarine reactors stored in canisters at the Saida Bay facility, where the barges are being taken. (Thomas Nilsen)

 

Cross-posted at Balloon Juice

Time For Some Debunking

From South China Morning Post, attributed to Twitter

Looks like nuclear misinformation is flaring up again in the news stream. I can’t debunk it all – much of it contains too little fact for that. But I can say why I think some of these things are improbable.

The big story is in the South China Morning Post: Chinese scientists plan ‘disposable’ nuclear reactor for long-range torpedo.

Let me say that the idea of a disposable nuclear reactor, even with quote marks, strikes me as improbable.

The Chinese researchers are proposing a mini version of the Russian Poseidon unmanned submarine – the world’s first known underwater drone powered by nuclear energy.

Ah, okay! Vaporware!

We have not yet seen a prototype of the fearsome Poseidon, touted by Vladimir Putin as being able to cause a radioactive tidal wave along the entire US East Coast. Nor any signs of its development. I have long been dubious of this and the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile, which was at least tested and killed a number of its developers.

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Boondoggle!

Vladimir Putin has proudly announced that Russia is developing superweapons that will get around the American missile defenses he sees as destabilizing the nuclear standoff.

Poseidon, also known as Kanyon and Status-6, is an uncrewed underwater vehicle that can carry nuclear weapons. Putin has threatened that it could cause a radioactive tidal wave that would destroy the east coast of the United States. It is said to be nuclear-powered, so that it can loiter around the seas and be brought into action rapidly.

The 9M730 Burevestnik, also known as SSC-X-9 Skyfall, is a nuclear-powered cruise missile. Like Poseidon, it is said to be able to loiter in the sky to be ready for its mission. Now it looks like Burevestnik has undergone, or is about to undergo, another test. Jeffrey Lewis kindly posted a Twitter thread explaining how they found the evidence.

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Those Northern Radiation Observations

Nations to the northwest of Russia reported slightly increased levels of radiation on several days in June. The levels were harmless to human health and the environment.  

The isotopes observed include Cs-134, Cs-137, Ru-103, I-131, and isotopes of cobalt. The possible source region for the June 22 and 23 observations was calculated by the monitoring organization for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO), which has isotope monitoring stations around the world. The tweet doesn’t say this, but that region was probably calculated by considering the winds during that period. (Lassina Zerbo is the director of the CTBTO.)

Iodine-131 was observed at more northerly stations and on different days than the other isotopes. It has a half-life of 8 days and is a fission product, as are the other isotopes except for cobalt. Cobalt is an activation product of the steel containment vessel for a reactor. It seems likely that these observations come from a leaking nuclear reactor, but where?

Russia has reactors in the suspect area, but officials there have said that none of them have leaked.

Last week, a test of the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile was thought to be planned for the Kapustin Yar test site, north of the Caspian Sea.

Nothing more than a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was announced by the Russian government, so it’s not clear why this exclusion would have been for Burevestnik in particular. Up until now, Burevestnik tests have been further north. The deadly test of last year was within the area calculated by the CTBTO.

There’s not enough information to conclude anything more than that these emissions were from a reactor. Russia is party to conventions requiring it to provide information on accidents involving the release of radiation. The other nations within the possible source area have been conscientious about their adherence to those conventions. Russia hasn’t.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Update On The Nyonoksa Explosion

First: We have no more information than when I wrote about the Nyonoksa* accident on Monday. If anything, we may have less because the Russian government has gone back and forth in its announcements, contradicting earlier announcements and sometimes coming back to what was said earlier. So everything they say must be questioned. Because the test that caused the explosion appears to be a military secret, it is unlikely that the Russian government will say anything informative unless something happens to make it necessary for them to speak. The funerals of the scientists killed took place quickly.

What could make it necessary for them to speak is the open source intelligence analysis community’s ability to see and decipher evidence relating to the explosion. The New York Times is even getting in on the act. We can expect to see reports of recovery vessels in the area of the explosion, trying to recover the remnants from the seabed. Read More

He Can’t Help Himself

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted about the Russian explosion at Nenoksa.

DJT 190813

A number of experts hastened to criticize on the grounds that the United States doesn’t have a program like Russia’s Burevestnik [NATO designation Skyfall], or, if we do, it must be highly classified.

But there’s something else worth noting. This may be the first time Trump has criticized Russia in any way.

And of course, it’s a dick-measuring contest. He can’t help himself.

Speculations on the Nenoksa Explosion

On the morning of Thursday, August 8, something exploded at the Nenoksa Naval Base in Russia, not far from the city of Severodvinsk. This article is a good summary of what we knew by Friday. Since then, the Russian government has said that a radioactive source was involved in the explosion, along with liquid rocket fuel. Reports have gone back and forth on whether radiation detectors in Severodvinsk detected anything. Five more people have been reported dead. Sarov/VNIIEF, one of the Russian nuclear weapons laboratories, has released a statement, which some folks are rushing to translate.

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