According to international watchdog CTBTO, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, two of Russia’s nuclear monitoring stations went dark two days after a mysterious missile test explosion on August 8 that was originally portrayed as a non-nuclear incident.
Adding to the uneasy parallels with the infamous Chernobyl incident, doctors at a Russian hospital complained on Sunday they were not informed that casualties from the explosion had been exposed to radiation.
CTBTO chief Lassina Zerbo told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday that two days after the missile explosion, nuclear monitoring stations in Kirov and Dubna allegedly suffered “communication and network issues” that prevented them from transmitting any data.
“Those monitoring stations, Dubna and Kirov, form part of a global network to ensure that countries are following the rules of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which Russia says it is adhering to, although it has not yet been formally internationally ratified,” Newsweek noted.
Zerbo said CTBTO is awaiting “further reports on when the stations or the communication system will be restored to full functionality.”
Four doctors and a medical worker at a hospital in Severodvinsk, the city nearest to the missile test site, told the Moscow Times on Friday that they were not informed patients injured in the explosion were radioactive.
“The hospital workers had their suspicions, but nobody told them to protect themselves,” a surgeon complained.
The Moscow Times reported staffers at the Arkhangelsk Regional Clinical Hospital were “shocked and angered” by the way the incident was handled. Some of them have spoken with local news outlets or told their stories using the secure messaging service Telegram. All of them seemed acutely aware the same thing happened to the misinformed doctors who treated the first Chernobyl victims without proper protective gear.
They expressed their grievances to the newspaper anonymously because they believed they were still under observation by Russia’s FSB security service. According to hospital sources, the FSB “asked’ everyone who worked with patients from the missile explosion to sign non-disclosure agreements. They also seized or destroyed all documentation about the radioactive patients from the hospital.
“They weren’t forced to sign them, but when three FSB agents arrive with a list and ask for those on the list to sign, few will say no,” one of the doctors observed wryly. None of the doctors who worked directly with the three patients brought from the missile explosion were willing to speak with the Moscow Times, not even anonymously.
The doctors evidently saw little point in complaining to public or military officials, as they submitted a list of questions to the Health Ministry a week after the missile explosion, but their questions were completely ignored.
Instead, the Health Ministry offered everyone at the hospital a free trip to Moscow to be tested for radiation exposure… and at least one doctor tested positive. The doctor in question ended up with Caesium-137 in his bloodstream after treating the missile explosion patients. Caesium-137 is a byproduct of nuclear fission involving uranium-235, which is used in both nuclear power plants and atomic weapons. Russia is known to have enormous stockpiles of uranium-235.
“Exposure to Caesium-137 is quite preventable — all you need to do is wash the patient really well – but the doctors were made vulnerable to radiation because they hadn’t been told what had happened,” University of Leicester radiation export Yuri Dubrova told the Moscow Times.
The Moscow Times quoted a news outlet with “close ties to Russia’s security services” that reported a huge convoy of police cars and ambulances delivering people injured by the missile explosion to a clinic in Moscow that treats radiation sickness. The doctors from Arkhangelsk Regional Clinical Hospital said two of their patients died en route to Moscow for treatment.
Newsweek quoted people living in the Severodvinsk area who are deeply concerned they have not been told the full story of the explosion by their government or given accurate information about the risks they face.
“What’s offensive is that clearly there was some sort of explosion, there was radioactive fallout. Why didn’t they raise the alarm, let people know what’s happened? We remember Chernobyl. We know what happened,” one local resident said.
Update: On Monday afternoon, the CTBTO said two more Russian nuclear monitoring stations, located near the towns of Bilibino and Zalesovo, stopped transmitting data on August 13.