Failed Russian nuclear test hints at Putin's dangerous plans to beat U.S. defenses


Category:  World News

Via:  tig  •  2 years ago  •  34 comments

Failed Russian nuclear test hints at Putin's dangerous plans to beat U.S. defenses
"Is it dangerous? Yes! I think the phrase 'flying nuclear reactor' tells you all you need to know," one analyst said.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Aug. 13, 2019, 4:53 AM CDT

By   Alexander Smith

A recent explosion during what experts say was likely a Russian nuclear-powered missile test indicates Moscow could be pursuing dangerous technology in an attempt to beat U.S. missile defenses.

Five scientists   were killed and radiation spiked in a nearby city following the blast at an offshore platform in the Russian Arctic last Thursday.

Authorities have drip-fed details of the incident to the public. But Monday, Vyacheslav Solovyov, scientific director of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, confirmed that at the time of the blast, nuclear scientists at the Nyonoksa military range were working on "small-sized energy sources using radioactive fissile materials."

Another factual morsel came when Russia's state nuclear agency, Rosatom, said the accident happened while testing "isotope power sources within a liquid propulsion system."

Experts said this vague, technical wording hinted that the facility was likely testing the same experimental weapon   Russian President Vladimir Putin   announced in March 2018 . He revealed that Russia was developing a cruise missile with "unlimited range" that could carry a nuclear weapon to any point on the globe.

The incident drew a response from President Donald Trump on Monday night,   with the president tweeting   that it "has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!"

Experts say all the evidence points toward it being a test of the rocket that   Putin announced .

"There's really no other possible scenario for this. All the pieces fit together," said Vipin Narang, a politics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on nuclear weapons. "It's very difficult to imagine that it's anything else besides this."

The deadly explosion came days after the United States scrapped   the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty , complaining   Russia had violated the pact   banning ground-based nuclear weapons of a certain range. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limits long-range nuclear weapons, is set to expire in February 2021 unless renewed.

"We're kind of stumbling or drifting into this arms race with the Russians," said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

"But there is a real human cost to an arms race," he said. "There were all kinds of disasters in the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War, because people felt so strongly about the need to do these dangerous things."

Russia's defense ministry initially said two people had been killed, before Rosatom announced the death of five of its scientists. It was not clear what the final death toll was.

The weapon likely being tested last week according to Lewis, Narang and other experts, is called the Burevestnik, which translates as "petrel," a type of sea bird. NATO has dubbed it the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. If completed, the missile would not only be nuclear-armed but also nuclear powered, carrying a relatively small reactor to heat the air in its jet engine.

It would fly at a lower and on a less predictable trajectory than an intercontinental ballistic missile, making it theoretically capable of evading U.S. missile defenses.

"You can see how the missile bypasses interceptors," Putin said last year alongside a computer-generated video of the rocket. "As the range is unlimited, the missile can maneuver for as long as necessary."

"As you no doubt understand, no other country has developed anything like this,” he added. “There will be something similar one day but by that time, our guys will have come up with something even better."

Trump claimed on Twitter that the U.S. has "similar, though more advanced, technology."

Joe Cirincione, president of the anti-nuclear weapons group the Ploughshares Fund,   said that the president's tweet was "bizarre"   given that the U.S. does "not have a nuclear-powered cruise missile program."

Little is known about the Russian version, but experts — many of whom were horrified at Putin's announcement last year — say it will likely run into many of the same grave safety concerns.

"Think of it like a mini Chernobyl on a missile," MIT's Narang said. "It's an air-breathing cruise missile and they put an unshielded mini nuclear reactor on it. Obviously, that's pretty bats--- insane. We tried this in the 1960s and gave up for a reason, and this is why. It's very risky."

Thursday's accident is the latest sign that Russia's attempts to succeed where the U.S. failed are not going to plan. This is the latest of several failed tests since they started in 2017.

Cheryl Rofer, a retired chemist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb in New Mexico, believes Putin will never succeed.

"There are basic and fundamental engineering considerations that suggest that a nuclear-powered cruise missile with a very small power source will be very difficult or impossible to build,"   she wrote on the Nuclear Diner website Sunday .

That's because of how difficult it is to make this type of missile light enough but with enough power to fly. But the main reason it was abandoned in the past is the design has the potential to spread radioactive particles over the ground as it flies. In the 1960s, the U.S. did not want to test its rocket in Nevada or over the Pacific because of the risk it could veer off course and cause an environmental catastrophe.

"Is it dangerous? Yes!" Lewis said. "I think the phrase 'flying nuclear reactor' tells you all you need to know. You've got air blowing through an open nuclear reactor and spewing out the back."

In his announcement last year, Putin made no secret of why he's so intent on reviving a technology that has been discredited by scientists for decades as dangerous and irresponsible. He sees it as the necessary weapon to beat potential advances in U.S. missile defenses.

Many scientists are deeply skeptical of the effectiveness of domestic missile defenses based in Alaska and California. This is because incoming missiles can deploy countermeasures such as decoys or systems that cool their temperature so they're all but invisible to interceptors.

But Russia is developing the Skyfall on the assumption these defenses will improve, according to Narang.

"I would not count on our national missile defenses to intercept even a single incoming North Korean [intercontinental ballistic missiles] right now," he said. "But what worries Russia is not necessarily it working today, but working in the future."

He added that "the fact that the Russians have lost lives and made real sacrifices testing this missile shows just how terrified they are of U.S. missile defense."

Lewis, at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, broadly agrees: "The Russians take missile defense extremely seriously, much more than we are willing to admit the United States."

"However, it takes a special kind of crazy to do this. What most countries would do would be just build more nuclear weapons because it's cheaper," he added. "Instead the Russians seem to have gone down this Soviet path of this kind of bizarre menagerie of doomsday weapons."


jrDiscussion - desc
PhD Principal
1  seeder  TᵢG    2 years ago
The weapon likely being tested last week according to Lewis, Narang and other experts, is called the Burevestnik, which translates as "petrel," a type of sea bird. NATO has dubbed it the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. If completed, the missile would not only be nuclear-armed but also nuclear powered, carrying a relatively small reactor to heat the air in its jet engine.

Throughout history,  leaders of nations have conspired to encroach on other nations in the endless pursuit of more.   Tragically the stakes are now of worldwide consequence.

Junior Guide
1.2  Drakkonis  replied to  TᵢG @1    2 years ago

My first thought was that this just goes to show how whacked Putin and his government are. But, it seems we pursued the same tech as well, back in the 50's.

Weapons of mass destruction are scary enough. Nuclear, biological and chemical. But what I find even scarier are the people who think they are a good idea and try to improve on them. There are people trying to figure out better and more efficient ways they can kill the maximum number of people in the shortest amount of time, and they're sponsored by governments. 

PhD Principal
1.2.1  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Drakkonis @1.2    2 years ago

For the most part this is all about the threat.   Trouble is, these weapons could destroy the planet.

Junior Guide
1.2.2  Drakkonis  replied to  TᵢG @1.2.1    2 years ago
Trouble is, these weapons could destroy the planet.

Yeah. Bummer, huh? Right now, someone in every nuclear country is trying to figure out scenarios where use of nukes makes sense. Like that movie "Wargames." If we could only develop a delivery system that was fast enough to prevent or severely limit a response, goes the thinking. As if there could possibly be a good scenario. If ever nukes start flying, reason has left the building and isn't coming back. 

PhD Principal
1.2.3  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Drakkonis @1.2.2    2 years ago

It is tragic.   Human beings, IMO, are nowhere near wise enough to have such powerful weapons.

It really is akin to a child having a loaded machine gun.

Senior Quiet
1.3  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  TᵢG @1    2 years ago

Shades of "Project Pluto" from the late 50's and early 60's! Wonder if that's where the Russians got the idea....


Masters Principal
1.3.1  MrFrost  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @1.3    2 years ago

I've been wondering where Slim Pickens is these days. 

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2  Trout Giggles    2 years ago

Well, it's been a good run for the last 57 years....

Perrie Halpern R.A.
Professor Principal
2.1  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Trout Giggles @2    2 years ago

LOL, that sounds hopeful. 

We thought this before... remember the 80's. I was sure that was the end. Ronny just loved to ramp up things. 

Oh and he didn't cause the collapse of the Soviet Union... Chernobyl did. 

Funny how history is written. 

Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.1.1  Trout Giggles  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2.1    2 years ago

I'm an optimist, what can I say?

Oh....I remember the 80's but I think I felt my worse fear during the mid-70's. I constantly dreamed about nuclear war.

Chernobyl didn't help but that war in Afghanistan didn't help matters, either

Greg Jones
Senior Participates
2.1.2  Greg Jones  replied to  Perrie Halpern R.A. @2.1    2 years ago

Reagan helped.

A bit more complicated than just Chernobyl

Senior Participates
3  igknorantzrulz    2 years ago

'flying nuclear reactor'

Sorta flies in the face of reason, unless Enterprising solution, and that's illogical at this point in our technological


Senior Quiet
3.1  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  igknorantzrulz @3    2 years ago

Google "Project Pluto".

Sparty On
Masters Principal
4  Sparty On    2 years ago

Where is Dr Strangelove when you need him?

Junior Guide
5  dave-2693993    2 years ago

What's the big deal, Russia has a perfectly safe munitions record.

See how well this incident on August 6th of this year was handled.

Senior Participates
5.1  igknorantzrulz  replied to  dave-2693993 @5    2 years ago

It's all good,

Putin said a firecracker was accidentally lit by a carelessly discarded cigarette,

and Trump said he'll take Putin's word over 


the damn geiger counters in the world ! 

Junior Guide
5.1.1  dave-2693993  replied to  igknorantzrulz @5.1    2 years ago

Warning: Cigarettes may be bad for your health.

In all seriousness I'm hearing folks in that have been prescribed iodine.

It may be true or my be crossed wires. ?

Junior Guide
5.1.2  dave-2693993  replied to  igknorantzrulz @5.1    2 years ago

Some additional footage from different perspectives.

Senior Participates
5.1.3  igknorantzrulz  replied to  dave-2693993 @5.1.2    2 years ago

bad asz    wouldn'twant to be n e where near that shit

Junior Principal
6  Nerm_L    2 years ago

Launching 'nuclear reactors' isn't anything new.  All of the deep space satellites launched by the United States were powered by a nuclear heat source:  Voyager 1 & 2, Galileo, Cassini, New Horizons, even the Curiosity rover deployed to Mars used a plutonium heat source.  

The idea behind nuclear enhanced air-breathing propulsion is to heat the fuel to a high temperature before combustion.  The nuclear heat source does not provide the thrust.  And since the engine requires fuel the missile would not have unlimited range.  

The other possibility is to utilize a nuclear heat source to directly heat air to increase pressure and the increased pressure would provide propulsion.  However, the heat transfer limitations constrains the size of the missile and payload.  Heating air is not a fast process.

Sparty On
Masters Principal
6.1  Sparty On  replied to  Nerm_L @6    2 years ago

Details, details Nerm ..... stop wrecking a perfectly good rant topic against Trump now ya hear?


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