MOSCOW — Four days after a missile carrying nuclear materials exploded on a platform on the White Sea, military officials came to the little nearby village of Nyonoksa and told residents that they should evacuate for a few hours Wednesday.
Amid a decided lack of information about the hazards posed by the blast in the northern region of Arkhangelsk, the Russian press and social media leaped on the story.
Residents told local news organizations that they had been informed this was no big deal but that they should board a train that would take them away. Some said they’d rather walk off into the forest.
It took most of Tuesday for officials to realize how damaging this looked given the nuclear materials involved in the accident. Arkhangelsk Gov. Igor Orlov insisted it wasn’t an evacuation but a “routine measure.”
Finally, on Tuesday evening, a military spokesman told the Interfax news agency that an unspecified “event” planned for Wednesday had been canceled, thus obviating the need for the evacuation.
About 450 people are said to live in the village, which abuts a military testing range.
The missile blew up Thursday evening, killing five workers from the Federal Nuclear Center. American experts, as well as President Trump, have suggested that it was an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile designated as Skyfall by NATO and as Burevestnik — or Stormy Petrel — by the Russians.
A resident of Nyonoksa told ArkhangelskOnline that the village has been evacuated before, presumably because of the hazards of tests or other military activity nearby. Several years ago, the resident said, part of a burning missile fell on a house in the village and set it afire.
The website reported that military officials had met with the villagers Monday to tell them they’d have to leave.
“They said that there were no changes in the radiation background and there was nothing to worry about,” said the resident, who asked not to be identified. “And that everything is fine both in our village and there, in the military town. The situation is checked by experts.”
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said “security is fully ensured” for residents in the region by the relevant government agencies.
Local officials conducted a study of soil, sand, river and seawater samples from several points in the region and reported no excess levels of radiation, according to media reports.
A short jump in gamma radiation was detected in the nearby city of Severodvinsk immediately after the explosion, about six to 16 times the usual background dosage, a government agency called Rosprirodnadzor, or the Federal Service for Natural Resources Management, told 29.ru.
A website called Dvina Today reported that 10 workers at the Arkhangelsk Regional Clinical Hospital who had treated the victims of the explosion flew to Moscow on Monday evening and were taken to the Federal Medical and Biophysical Center. That is where three nuclear workers who were hurt in the explosion are being treated for burns and other trauma. There was no word on why the Arkhangelsk doctors were taken there.