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Russia's deadly explosion linked to "unstoppable" missile

Putin visits a missile facility in 2017. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images

At least 7 people, many or all of them scientists, were killed last week when a missile test resulted in an explosion near Russia’s Arctic coast, per the NYT. Little has been confirmed publicly about the explosion, except that it released radiation.

Between the lines: “The reference to radiation was striking — tests of missile engines don’t involve radiation. Well, with one exception: Last year, Russia announced it had tested a cruise missile powered by a nuclear reactor. ... NATO calls it the SSC-X-9 Skyfall,” Jeffrey Lewis writes for Foreign Policy.

  • That helps explain President Trump’s tweet today referring to a “Skyfall’ explosion,” which he said “has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond.”
  • Indeed, David Sanger and Andrew Kramer report in the Times that “the Russian government’s slow and secretive response has set off anxiety in nearby cities and towns — and attracted the attention of analysts in Washington and Europe who believe the explosion may offer a glimpse of technological weaknesses in Russia’s new arms program.”

Lewis is one such analyst. He writes that “a nuclear-powered cruise missile is an outrageous idea, one the United States long ago considered and rejected as a technical, strategic, and environmental nightmare."

  • "Vladimir Putin’s Russia, though, thinks differently.”
  • “The United States and Russia seem to be drifting into a new arms race, either out of some bizarre nostalgia or because no one can think of anything better to do.”
  • “When we think about the dangers of the arms race, we think about the possibility of a civilization-ending cataclysm. But even though the Cold War didn’t end in wide-scale catastrophe, it still resulted in a series of small-scale catastrophes for many of the people who lived it.”