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While the Russian military has remained quiet about what type of rocket may have been involved in the test, the research institute that employed five of the scientists that died said Sunday night a small nuclear reactor had exploded during the experiment in the White Sea.
Vyacheslav Solovyov, the scientific director of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, said in a video statement to a local newspaper that the agency was working on a number of experimental technologies, including studying “small-scale sources of energy with the use of fissile materials.” He said similar work is taking place in the United States, but did not disclose how much material had been involved in the incident Thursday, according to the Guardian.
“We are now trying to understand, we are working closely with a government commission, analyzing the entire chain of events to assess the scale of the accident and to understand its causes,” he said.
Two U.S.-based nuclear experts told Reuters on Friday that a liquid rocket propellant explosion would not release radiation, leading to speculation the nuclear-powered cruise missile was involved. U.S. intelligence officials told the New York Times they believe the blast involved a prototype of a missile Russia calls the 9M730 Buresvestnik. The NATO alliance has designated it the SSC-X-9 Skyfall.
During his 2018 state of the nation address, Putin unveiled the missile, along with other new weapons that he said made NATO’s U.S.-led missile defense system “useless.”
The Russian leader claimed the nuclear-powered cruise missile had an unlimited range, flew at a high speed and was capable of maneuverability that would allow it to pierce any missile defense. While Putin boasted of the ability to strike long-range targets, two U.S. officials briefed on Moscow’s military capabilities told Fox News at the time the weapon was not operational yet and still in its “nascent” stage.