Moscow acknowledges mysterious rocket explosion involved nuclear workers

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Rosatom also did not shed much light on the nature of the liquid propulsion unit involved, though possibilities include a "mishap during a test of a new class of nuclear-engined weapons that Mr. Putin first spoke publicly about a year ago", the Times wrote. On August 10, the Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation said that five employees had been killed in the accident and three more had been hospitalized.

"Valentin Kostyukov [RFNC-VNIIEF director] said that the deceased experts would be recommended for posthumous state awards", Rosatom said in a statement.

Rosatom said its staff were providing engineering and technical support for the "isotope power source" of a missile. Isotope sources use various types of fuel: "plutonium, promethium or cerium", Zhuikov said.

The incident happened in a military unit in the village of Nenoksa, according to the press service of the Arkhangelsk region governor.

Authorities said the port has been closed off after the incident.

The nearby city of Severodvinsk recorded elevated radiation levels following the accident and panicked residents rushed to buy iodine to counteract radiation.

Russia's military initially said two people had been killed in the accident and it was not known whether they were among the five that Rosatom reported.

More news: Russian nuclear agency says five killed in accident at test site

The radiation statement put out by the city of Severodvinsk was taken down on Friday without explanation. The BBC asked officials there why, and they said "because this incident comes under the authority of the defence ministry". It did not say why.

The Arkhangelsk regional news site 29.ru said that almost all the pharmacies in the city have been emptied of iodine drops, which are used to protect the thyroid gland from certain types of radiation.

An unidentified naval officer quoted by the Kommersant newspaper said the accident could have occurred at a testing site at sea and that the explosion of a rocket could have caused a toxic fuel spill.

The accident occurred in the far northern Arkhangelsk region during testing of a liquid propellant jet engine. The area is home to a weapons testing range for the Russian navy and close to shipyards that produce nuclear submarines.

Earlier, the authorities in a nearby city said the accident had caused a spike in radiation levels but the military denied this.

Professor Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies said his "working hypothesis" was that the blast "was related to Russia's nuclear-powered cruise missile, the 9M730 Burevestnik (NATO name: SSC-X-9 Skyfall)".

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