Five Killed In Missile Test Explosion, Says Russia Nuclear Agency

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"Five people died during tests of a liquid-propellant engine system as a result of the accident at a military range in the Arkhangelsk Region".

Russian authorities had previously said that two people had been killed in the incident and that a nearby city had reported a rise in radiation levels when the rocket engine blew up at a testing site in the Archangelsk region on Friday.

Officials have raised the death toll to five people in a mysterious August 8 explosion and fire at a military unit in Russia's northwestern Arkhangelsk region, as a string of blasts have rocked Russian military sites in recent days.

Meanwhile, local residents have been stocking up iodine used to reduce the effects of radiation exposure after the accident, regional media reported.

The statement was the first confirmation that the agency was involved in the incident, which briefly drove radiation levels up to 20 times their normal levels in the nearby city of Severodvinsk.

Authorities in Severodvink, 47km (29 miles) east of Nyonska said that radiation levels shortly after the blast were higher than normal for about 40 minutes but returned to normal.

Those reports say an area near Nyonoksa is used for tests on weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles that are used by the Russian navy. Both levels are too small to cause radiation sickness.

Defense officials have nonetheless shut down fishing, swimming and shipping traffic in a portion of the White Sea.

Reuters quoted two USA -based nuclear experts as saying they suspected the blast and radiation release occurred during the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin spoke of a year ago.

"During testing of a liquid jet engine an explosion and combustion of the product occurred", the BBC reported, citing a statement from the defense ministry obtained by Russian news agency Interfax.

A video of hazmat-suited specialists taking measurements on the helicopter that airlifted the burn victims only added fuel to rumors, even though the medical personnel was clearly visible unloading the injured without any additional precautions.

On Monday, one person was killed and eight others were injured in a blaze at an ammunition dump in Siberia.

The blast was one of at least three explosions to rock Russian military sites in recent days.

The secrecy around the failed military test and initial tight-lipped statements by the Defense Ministry immediately triggered conspiracy theories about authorities trying to hide nothing less than a Chernobyl-scale incident.



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