MOSCOW: Residents of two northern Russian cities are stocking up on iodine that is used to reduce the effects of radiation exposure after a mysterious accident on a nearby military testing site, regional media reported.
The Ministry of Defence has given few details of the accident, saying only that two people were killed and six injured by the explosion of a liquid-propelled rocket engine at a test site in Russia’s north.
Although the ministry initially said no harmful chemicals were released into the atmosphere and radiation levels were unchanged, authorities in the nearby city of Severodvinsk reported what they described as a brief spike in radiation.
No official explanation has been given for why such an accident would cause radiation to spike.
“Everyone has been calling asking about iodine all day,” one pharmacy was quoted as saying by 29.Ru, a media outlet that covers the Arkhangelsk area.
It said the run on iodine had occurred in the northern port cities of Arkhangelsk and Severodvinsk and that several pharmacies had run out. Severodvinsk is the site of a shipyard that builds nuclear-powered submarines.
“We still have iodine left … but a really large number of people have come in for it today,” another pharmacy was quoted as saying.
Authorities have shut down an area of the Dvina Bay in the White Sea to shipping for a month near the accident site, without explaining why.
An unidentified naval officer quoted by Kommersant newspaper said the accident could have occurred at a testing site at sea and that the explosion of a rocket could have caused a toxic fuel spill.
Russian media have said that the rocket engine explosion may have occurred at a weapons testing area near the village of Nyonoksa in Arkhangelsk region.
Those reports say an area near Nyonoksa is used for tests on weapons, including ballistic and cruise missiles that are used by the Russian navy. Some reports have speculated that the test may have involved a new hypersonic missile called Tsirkon.
Greenpeace cited data from the Emergencies Ministry that it said showed radiation levels had risen 20 times above the normal level in Severodvinsk around 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Nyonoksa.
Nine hurt in new blasts
More explosions have injured nine more people at a military depot in Russia’s Siberia region, where massive blasts earlier in the week left two dead and 13 injured.
The Friday explosions at the ammunition depot near the city of Achinsk in eastern Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region were caused by lightning, the Russian Defence Ministry said, according to state news agency Tass.
The blasts and fire on Monday at the depot reportedly damaged the facility’s lightning-protection system.
Russian news agencies cited local health officials as saying that nine people were taken to the hospital after the new explosions, but there was no information on their conditions.
An official probe has been launched to determine the cause of Monday’s fire, the latest in a series of blazes at Russian military arsenals over the past few years.