This article originally appeared on VICE US.
A mysterious, deadly nuclear blast in Russia’s far north earlier this month occurred during a rescue mission to retrieve a lost missile from the ocean floor, a new U.S. intelligence assessment has reportedly concluded.
An explosion on a recovery ship caused a reaction inside the missile engine’s nuclear core that led to a radiation leak, CNBC reported, citing unidentified U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the report.
President Trump has tweeted the accident involved Russia’s secretive Skyfall cruise missile program, which aims to achieve infinite range via an onboard nuclear-powered engine.
Seven people were killed in the Aug. 8 incident, which sent radiation levels spiking in the nearby city of Severodvinsk and prompted a local run on iodine used in treating radiation exposure.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted there’s no further danger. But Russia stopped transmitting data to international observers from local radionuclide stations, making it hard for observers to say with certainty what’s really going on.
The U.S.-backed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty media outlet also published a report concluding that the explosion occurred during a missile-recovery operation, basing its findings on an analysis of photographs of nuclear waste containers and barges at the site.
Skyfall is just one of a series of experimental new nuclear weapons Putin has unveiled to great fanfare at home. The new arsenal is part of an attempt to counter U.S. missile defense systems, even though outside experts say Russia could easily overcome any such shield with the missiles it’s already got.
Russia has suffered some two-dozen casualties in accidents with exotic nuclear hardware this summer, prompting international arms experts to worry about safety practices and the potential for future deadly mishaps in the country’s nuclear programs.
Cover: This video grab from RU-RTR Russian television on Thursday, March 1, 2018, purports to show the launch of what President Vladimir Putin said is Russia's new nuclear-powered intercontinental cruise missile. President Vladimir Putin declared Thursday that Russia has developed a range of new nuclear weapons, claiming they can't be intercepted by enemy. (RU-RTR Russian Television via YouTube)