Russians living near base where Putin’s doomsday missile may have exploded last year warned ahead of new military activity

In this photo taken Oct. 7, 2018, a person walks down a street in the village of Nyonoksa, northwestern Russia. AP Photo/Sergei Yakovlev
  • Russian residents of Nyonoksa, a town near a secretive Arctic weapons testing site, were warned Sunday that they are in the “danger zone” and were given the opportunity to evacuate the area ahead of new military activity.
  • The Nyonoksa weapons testing site is where a mysterious explosion took place last August. The prevailing view is that the blast involved the Burevestnik, one of the doomsday weapons that Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled in 2018.
  • A few years earlier, a residential building in Nyonoksa was struck by an errant cruise missile when it unexpectedly changed direction during testing.
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A warning sent out Sunday to residents living in a town near a secretive Arctic weapons testing site where disaster has struck more than once in recent years said that they are in the “danger zone” and provided evacuation advice ahead of an upcoming military activity.

A message from the nearby city of Severodvinsk informed the residents of Nyonoksa that the first scientific centre of military unit 09703 will be conducting work in the area starting Tuesday.

The administrative municipality said that buses will be arranged for any of the town’s roughly 500 residents “wishing to leave” before the start of the unspecified military activity.

A warning was also sent out ot ships operating in the White Sea,The Moscow Times reported.

It is unclear exactly what activities are expected to be carried out nearby. The voluntary evacuation may be for routine testing, as has been the case in the past. But not all weapon testing in the area has been routine or gone according to plan.

The Nyonoksa weapons testing site was established in the 1950s and has served as a testing ground for a number of weapons systems, largely naval weapons.

In August, a mysterious explosion off the coast of Nyonoksa killed five people and injured several others. Russia’s version of events varied, but the head of Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corp., Russia’s state nuclear agency, indicated that the work was linked to the development of new weaponry.

Following the deadly blast, rapidly-decaying, radioactive isotopes were detected in a large cloud of inert radioactive gases that swept across nearby towns.

The data released by the Roshydromet national weather and environmental monitoring agency led nuclear weapons experts to conclude that a nuclear reactor exploded.

US intelligence officials, The New York Times reported, believe that the explosion involved a prototype of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a doomsday weapon Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled in March 2018.

In a tweet last year, President Donald Trump referred to the “failed missile explosion in Russia” as the “‘Skyfall’ explosion,” a reference to the NATO designation for the new weapon.

Putin boasted that the Burevestnik, which NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, is “invincible,” but its development has been hamstrung by repeated setbacks. Russia, which appeared to be trying to cover up the accident last August, never confirmed that the Burevestnik was involved.

The concept of a missile fuelled by an onboard nuclear reactor dates to the Cold War, but these designs were largely abandoned because they were expensive, dangerous and often unnecessary, experts have said.

Last year’s explosion is not the first time Nyonoksa has seen problems as a result of weapons testing. In late 2015, a cruise missile test went wrong and hit a residential building, setting the building on fire. Four apartments were damaged, but no one was injured, The Barents Observer reported.