Staunton, August 31 -- When the nuclear accident at a Russian weapns testing facility at Severodvinsk (Nyonoks, the original name) was acknowledged three weeks ago, commentators immediately drew comparisons with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster not only because it was a nuclear accident but also because Moscow once again tried to cover up what occurred.
But in fact, reginal specialist Vadim Shtepa says, the accident at Nyonoks was far more dangerous for a simple reason: Chernobyl was “a tragic catastrophe at a peaceful atomic energy plant. Today’s nuclear accident was the result of the test of a new weapon” (arvamus.postimees.ee/6765215/vadim-stepa-miks-on-njonoksa-hullem-kui-tsornobol; in Russian at http://region.expert/nyonoksa/).
Russian officials admitted there had been an accident during a weapons test but blamed it n the United States for having compelled Moscow to test a weapon that it otherwise would not have and said that the impact of the accident had been limited to the seven personnel at the test site who died (newsru.com/russia/27aug2019/sevdvinsk.html).
But this Russian effort failed both domestically and internationally. Domestically, the people in the region have long since ceased to believe what Russian officials tell them and reacted to these efforts at reassurance with panic. And internationally, monitoring by statins abroad meant that Moscow’s story soon collapsed.
Norway’s NОRSAR research institute quickly reported that there had been two nuclear explosions at the Russian site, not the one Moscow claimed (rus.ozodi.org/a/30129873.html); and even Russian outlets reported that radiation in the area of the accident had exceeded permissible levels by 20 times (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2019/08/10/81560-burevestnik-unes-sem-zhizney).
And world leaders, including most prominently US President Donald Trump confirmed that what had happened was the result of the test of a weapons system that Western experts had concluded was far too dangerous to try to develop in the ways the Russians have (twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1161026203345723393).
Moscow did more than just deny what had occurred: it shut down five of its seven internationally supported nuclear test monitoring facilities so that the extent of radiation from the accident would be more difficult for others to learn, more difficult but not impossible (cf. windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/08/moscow-shuts-down-nuclear-test.html).
Moscow also tried to prevent anyone from finding out about the accident by requiring doctors in the area to sign non-disclosure agreements and blocking any coverage in local media. But those efforts failed as well, with victims and potential victims using social media to get the story out.
This episode shows two things, Shtepa suggests. On the one hand, it indicates that the Russian government is quite prepared to take risks with its own population and lie about what occurs when it does so. And on the other, it demonstrates that neither the Russian population nor the West has any reason to believe Moscow on this or much else.