Putin says mysterious explosion posed no radiation threat

HELSINKI (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on Wednesday that a recent deadly explosion at a military testing site in northwestern Russia has not posed any radiation threat, but he remained coy about the circumstances of the mysterious incident.

Speaking after talks in Helsinki with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Putin emphasised that neighbouring nations have not recorded any spike in radioactivity.

The August 8 incident at the Russian navy’s range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea killed two servicemen and five nuclear engineers and injured six. It was followed by a brief rise in radiation levels in nearby Severodvinsk, but the authorities insisted the recorded levels did not pose any danger to local residents.

Russian officials’ changing and contradictory accounts of the incident drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

The Russian Defence Ministry at first denied any radiation leak in the incident even as the authorities in nearby Severodvinsk reported a brief rise in radiation levels and advised residents to stay indoors and close the windows. Frightened residents rushed to buy iodine, which can help reduce risks from exposure to radiation.

Russia’s state weather and environmental monitoring agency said the peak radiation reading in Severodvinsk on August 8 was 1.78 microsieverts per hour in just one neighbourhood — about 16 times the average.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference after his meeting with President of the Republic of Finland Sauli Niinisto at the President’s official residence Mantyniemi in Helsinki, Finland. PHOTO: AP