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

Emergency And Medical Personnel On The Nyonoksa Incident

Two accounts of caring for the victims of the accident at Nyonoksa on August 8 were published Wednesday, August 21, in Meduza (English version) and Novaya Gazeta. The sources are an emergency responder and two doctors. The emergency responder was not on duty that day and relies on the reports of co-workers. The sources want to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

I have questions about these accounts and a Washington Post account that seems to refer to another Novaya Gazeta article without linking. But first, let’s see what can reasonably be gleaned from the accounts. Read More

Disinformation Watch: The Open Skies Treaty

Some weird stuff has popped up in my Twitter feed this week. Fortunately, I follow experts who are trying to figure it out.

Steffan Watkins is a Canadian who follows ships and planes via the internet. If you like that sort of thing, I recommend you follow him. He is also very sensitive to disinformation and occasionally given to lectures about it. He is very knowledgeable about the Open Skies Treaty.

The Open Skies Treaty (text, fact sheet) allows the nations that have signed it to fly observation planes over other signatories’ territory. It’s an arms control treaty in that it allows nations to follow up on suspicions or just keep an eye on each other. It says nothing about numbers of weapons. The simple fact that nations are open to each other in this way builds trust, which is needed to negotiate on more difficult subjects. Read More

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.

Read More

PSA – Mushroom Clouds Are Not Necessarily Nuclear

There have been two notable explosions in Russia this past week.

  1. An arms storage depot exploded at Achinsk, near Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia. Every summer, a couple of arms storage depots explode in Russia. They have a lot of them, and their safety measures leave something to be desired. Explosions have continued for a week. Once they start, it’s dangerous to fight the fire that started them and continues. Better to evacuate the area (which has been done) and let the burning and exploding continue until there’s nothing left.

This event has produced some impressive video. Because of the relative humidity, you can see the shock wave as water in the air condenses and evaporates rapidly. Mushroom-shaped clouds have resulted. Large enough explosions, whether conventional or nuclear, produce mushroom clouds. Mushroom clouds are not a marker for a nuclear explosion. Read More

The End Of The INF Treaty

A commenter at Balloon Juice asked if I plan to write on the end of the INF Treaty. I hadn’t intended to – there’s an enormous amount of good commentary (Twitter threads here and here) on it – but as I thought about it, I have some thoughts beyond the standard commentary.

First, an overview of the situation.

The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was concluded between the US and the USSR in 1987. Both countries had been emplacing missiles in Europe in such a way as to dangerously shorten the warning time for a nuclear attack on Europe or Moscow. The treaty banned a whole class of missiles and largely ended the nuclear terrors of the early 1980s. Read More

Hello, World! Russia Here!

The Russian destroyer Udaloy I forced the USS Chancellorsville to maneuver to avoid collision in the Phillippine Sea today. They were sending a message – look at the guys sunbathing on the flight deck.

The maneuver was planned and approved by the fleet. Probably at the suggestion of Vladimir Putin, or certainly to please him. Read More

Meanwhile, in Russia

I subscribe to Paul Goble’s blog, “Window on Eurasia – New Series.” Goble worked in the United States State Department while the Soviet Union was breaking up. He worked particularly with Estonia and the other Baltic States, which had been made Republics of the Soviet Union after World War II, although that status had never been recognized by the United States and most other countries.

After he retired from the State Department, he taught in Estonian universities and wrote a summary of media, translated from Russian and Estonian, for a mailing list. That summary became the blog. He watches a variety of publications for separatist leanings, of which there are many in Russia. Russia contains many nationalities and many languages, peoples not always happy to be part of that larger state, but not able to break away.

It’s a different view of Russia than we get from Big Media, which focuses mainly on Vladimir Putin, not even on the politics among his government and the oligarchs. The focus on Putin tends to make him look all-powerful, but he is subject to a great many political currents and challenges from rivals. For now, he is in a relatively stable position. Here are a couple of stories that Goble has been following. Read More