Russia has thrown a veil of secrecy over the incident yesterday in the sub-Arctic Arkhangelsk region, amid reports of “panic” and “hysteria” among residents.
Radiation levels temporarily soared 20 times above the normal level in Severodvinsk, a city lying some 18 miles from the weapons testing site at Nyonoksa, according to Greenpeace citing the Russian Emergencies Ministry.
Claims that a mishap in the development of the Zircon hypersonic weapon was to blame surfaced from two sources, reported lenta.ru
The accident was believed to have been caused by the explosion of a liquid-propellant rocket engine and subsequent fire believed to have been on a vessel, possible a barge.
“A short-term rise in background radiation was recorded at noon”
The Zircon – or Tsirkon – with its Mach 8 missile has been identified by Moscow’s state-controlled TV as Putin’s weapon of choice to wipe out American cities in the event of nuclear war.
Tests were reportedly due in the latter part of 2019 but there was no official confirmation that the Zircon – developed in secrecy – was involved in Thursday’s incident at a base used for virtually all naval missile tests.
There was “mass hysteria” among residents “because of the radiation rumours” reported a local radio station in Severodvinsk.
The Russian health ministry denied any medical concerns among the general population after claims of a radiation spike.
“Civilians and residents of neighbouring populated localities were not hurt,” the ministry said.
Ksenia Yudina, a spokeswoman for the city government in Severodvinsk had said: “A short-term rise in background radiation was recorded at noon.”
But the military authorities played down any danger.
“There have been no harmful discharges into the atmosphere, and radiation levels are normal,” said a spokesman.
Greenpeace has written to environmental watchdogs in Russia and neighbouring Norway calling on them “to investigate the consequences of the explosion”.
Former Northern Fleet commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov played down the incident, saying: “Explosions at test sites are commonplace.
“They should be treated calmly. This was a test. A negative result is also a result.
“In order for a missile to fly, you need to test all its components: engines, fuel – everything.
Deep secrecy has surrounded tests and designs of the Zircon, which Putin claims is unmatched by any Western missile.
In May it was reported that trials launching the missile from a naval vessel would be started later in 2019.
Previously it is believed that the shark-nosed Zircon has been tested at least five times from land-based sites, and is capable of a speed of 1.7 miles per second.
In June 2017 the missile reached eight times the speed of sound, according to reports.
The Royal Navy’s Sea Ceptor surface-to-air missile is reportedly capable only of intercepting targets flying up to Mach 3.
Hypersonic cruise missile Zircon is designed to be used against ships or land-based targets, and to enter production in 2021, commencing service the following year.
In April, Dmitry Kiselyov, presenter of Russia’s main weekly TV news show Vesti Nedeli, showed on screen a map of the US identifying targets he claimed Moscow would want to hit in a nuclear war.
Kiselyov, seen as a top Putin propagandist, said the Zircon missile could hit the targets in less than five minutes.