On the heels of the second anniversary of the Nyonoksa radiation disaster, the Russian federation is continuing development of the weapon at the heart of the tragedy.
In March 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled his plan to develop six new advanced weapons systems. The crown jewel of these weapons is the 9M730 Burevestnik Missile. This weapon — referred to as SSC-X-9 Skyfall by NATO — uses a nuclear reactor to intake, compress, and heat up air to propel the missile and is armed with a thermonuclear warhead. An unfortunate byproduct of using a nuclear reactor as a propulsion device is that during the process of compressing the air, it becomes irradiated and thus expels radiation. Since the announcement, the weapon has undergone numerous tests, most of which have failed. The most disastrous of these failures happened in 2019 after Russian scientists working on the project went to collect the fired missile body over a year after it had been test fired. The nuclear reactor exploded upon being recovered, killing five scientists and two soldiers. Nuclear fallout was blown into the nearby town of Nyonoksa, bringing the amount of radiation in the area up to 200 times the normal level. With no warning from the Russian government that nuclear testing was ongoing, the people of Nyonoksa faced potential long-term radiological illness, irradiated water supply, and halted daily life until the amount of radiation was safe again.
There are two different ways that humans can be exposed to radioactive fallout — externally and internally. External exposure is through direct physical contact of fallout particles in the air. This is common in nuclear blasts because the radiation is projected into the air at high velocity and has the ability to travel hundreds of miles based on the speed and direction that the wind takes it. Humans can also come into direct contact with fallout after it has landed on the ground. Because the fallout can potentially remain irradiated for years depending on the material used in the nuclear reactor, inhabitants of towns that are closest to nuclear explosions are in the most danger. Internal exposure is made through an indirect means. An example of indirect contact is if the fallout came to rest on crops that were either consumed by humans, or even by livestock that later produced milk. The dairy would have radioactive particles in it that are dangerous to whomever consumes it. Both external and internal exposure to fallout can threaten the health of humans, leaving them with lasting issues and is often times difficult to detect without the proper equipment.
We have seen nuclear disasters too many times before; a lesson unlearned that continually repeats itself. In April 1986 the world saw a devastating nuclear disaster in the city of Chernobyl. The nuclear power plant exploded and sent plumes of around 6.5 tons of radiation hundreds of miles away. Millions of people came into some kind of contact with the fallout and the initial estimate from the United Nations was that 4,000 people would die from the effects of the fallout. However, that estimate failed to take into account the internal exposure to the fallout from many of the crops and livestock. This means the number of people affected by the long-term health complications is significantly higher and is estimated to be upwards of 16,000, but may never be able to be measured with statistical confidence.
Although the scale of the Nyonoksa explosion was not nearly at the same level as the one in Chernobyl, the results from the fallout could be the same. Because the Russian government refused to notify the villagers nearby of the explosion for days, the fallout had time to make its way into drinking water, livestock, and food supplies. It may be years or even decades until those affected by the blast begin to see the side effects of the radiation, but in the meantime, Russia continues to test its nuclear weapon. The world awaits disapprovingly for the next nuclear disaster. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then this nuclear-powered nuclear missile is insanity!