More information is slowly starting to trickle out about the explosion last week near Severodvinsk, Russia, that left at least seven people dead.
The blast occurred on Thursday, and local officials said at the time that "a brief rise of the radiation level was registered." Russia's Ministry of Defense said a liquid rocket engine had exploded and put the death toll at two, but beyond that, the government did not release any additional information. Now, it has come out that there were seven victims, all scientists, with five working for the Russian Federal Nuclear Center.
In an interview with a Russian newspaper on Sunday, the center's scientific director, Vyacheslav Solovyov, said they had been studying "small-scale sources of energy with the use of fissile materials." U.S. analysts believe the explosion involved the test of a new, nuclear-powered cruise missile, which NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, The New York Times reports. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said this missile can travel anywhere in the world and could avoid American missile defenses.
The Pentagon has said such a missile would fly at a low altitude on an unpredictable path. Experts say the United States tried to make a similar weapon in the 1950s and '60s, and abandoned the effort due to the risks. President Trump tweeted about the matter on Monday evening, saying the U.S. is "learning much from the failed missile explosion in Russia," and people are "worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!" He also said the United States has "similar, though more advanced, technology," but U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal that while the U.S. does have nuclear-armed cruise missiles, scientists are not developing a nuclear-powered system.