Speed Reads

still a little scary

Secrecy around recent Russian explosion shows 'we haven't learned the lessons of Chernobyl,' says Chernobyl historian

The Russian government is preaching calm, but confusion still abounds even after the military called off an evacuation of Nyonoksa, the closest village to last Thursday's accidental explosion during the testing of a nuclear-powered missile in the northern part of the country.

Despite a defense ministry denial, the blast reportedly spiked radiation levels in the area before those levels returned to normal shortly afterward. Local emergency officials also announced that they found no trace of radioactive contamination in the ground. That made it all the more confusing as to why the 500 or so villagers in Nyonoksa were initially ordered to evacuate, albeit briefly. The villagers were reportedly frustrated by the lack of explanation.

"It's shocking when people who live there, let alone us, have no idea what really happened," Svetlana Alexievich, the Nobel Prize-winning author who published an oral history of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, said on Ekho Moskvy radio. "It looks like we haven't learned the lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima."

There is no evidence that the blast at the testing range was remotely close to the dangers that arose in 1986 and it's worth noting that Nyonoksa does receive temporary evacuations orders from time to time, but The Associated Press reports that the Defense Ministry's denial that radiation had been released following the explosion was "reminiscent of Soviet-era attempts to cover up disasters that added to public nervousness."

Independent military analyst Alexander Golts concurred, saying that "the military's desire to keep a tight lid on information" has "led to vitally important information being hidden from the public in a critical situation." Read more at The Associated Press and The Washington Post.