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  1. All good points. However, the recent news announcement that 2 of the scientists died of acute radiation sickness leaves me mystified. There was discussion of the hospital where they were treated behind contaminated with Cs-137, an obvious fission product, but I cannot see that leading to an acute lethal dose of radiation. That leads me to believe a massive neutron dose from a prompt criticality a la Chernobyl. What other explanation?

    1. What other explanation?
      How about, the nuclear turbofan engine was static-tested prior to the launch attempt, making it radioactive.
      When the booster rocket exploded, it blew away radiation shielding, and presto.
      But that assumes that the launch team were awfully close, which may or may not make sense, considering it was an ocean platform (if I understood correctly).
      Still seems rather improbable.

    2. “The reactor exploded Aug. 8 off the coast of the northern Russian town of Nenoska, killing seven Russians on a barge in the White Sea as they were overseeing the recovery of a sunken Skyfall. The missile had been sitting on the seafloor for about year after a failed flight test, said State Department official Thomas G. DiNanno.

      ‘The explosion was caused by the Skyfall experiencing a criticality accident, an uncontrolled nuclear reaction that released a burst of radiation while Russian personnel retrieved it from the seafloor,’ Mr. DiNanno said in an interview with The Washington Times.” – I rest my case

  2. Rod…good article……I just can’t understand why you had to muck it up with the last paragraph “Conspiracy Theory” stuff.

    1. I hear your comment, but I will keep reminding readers that businesses and governments employ strategists whose JOB is to find ways to beat competitors.

      It’s not a conspiracy to take actions that hamstring adversaries or help to increase sales of your offered products. That’s what businesses are organized to do.

  3. It is a “point source” of radiation with a dose rate that falls off rapidly in inverse proportion to the square of the distance from the reactor.

    Inverse-square times a negative exponential from scattering and absorption.  Not that I’m picking nits or anything.

    “And everything ends up as heat, that’s just the way it goes.” — Me

  4. My understanding is that Russian electronics leaves much to be desired.

    I failed to comprehend the final sentence.

    Otherwise much better than the MSM. Thank you.

    1. Russia exports oil and gas products. Russia wants clients to continue to depend on consuming oil and gas products from Russia, and therefore does not hesitate to stir up fears of nuclear power for fear clients might switch to clean nuclear and cut into their profits. This could play into *one* of the reasons for refusing to provide clear and complete information.

      I think its a mistake to ascribe malice to what is more easily attributed by simple bureaucratic inertia and circlinig the wagons around “state secrecy”.

      1. But Russia does sell nuclear fission reactors, as well as fossil fuels.

        And their history of accidents of all kinds is long and deep. I find the idea that this accident was anti-nuclear propaganda unlikely. Russia isn’t Australia or Germany.

        1. @Don Cox

          Russia sells nuclear fission reactors, but magnitude of that business enterprise pales in comparison to its oil and gas business. The nuclear enterprise is also predominantly aimed at developing countries with a short history of free expression or countries with autocratic governments.

          Spreading nuclear fears among residents of countries like Japan, the EU and the US probably won’t hurt Russia’s nuclear business anywhere near as much as it might help their oil and gas export business.

          Opinions may differ, but pragmatists quantify effects of their actions. They don’t stop their analysis by saying there are pluses and minuses without putting some numbers on both sides and weighing the overall effects.

  5. In this instance, I believe that Mopani has the more accurate take on Russia’s reluctance to be forthcoming about what really happened during the explosion. Occam’s razor postulates that the most obvious explanation for an occurrence is usually the correct one. Russia has been obsessively secretive about any state or military activity for a hundred years at least.
    Russia sells a lot of nuclear generated electricity to Germany as well as selling oil and gas; which fact compromises your assertion Bob..


    1. Charles, there is no interconnect between the European grid and the BRELL grid. Finland has DC interties to both, but is a net electricity importer.

    2. Who is “Bob” in this conversation?

      Please point me to a source indicating that Russian electricity (nuclear or otherwise) is a significant share of German market. They don’t even share a border.

      1. Rod,

        I concede the point regarding Russian electricity exports to Germany (Germany does import nuclear generated electricity from France). But my central point is corroborated by an article from The World Nuclear Association, which can be found here; https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-o-s/russia-nuclear-power.aspx
        Pasted following is a quote from that article: “Russia is moving steadily forward with plans for an expanded role of nuclear energy, including development of new reactor technology.
        It is committed to closing the fuel cycle, and sees fast reactors as a key to this.
        Exports of nuclear goods and services are a major Russian policy and economic objective. Over 20 nuclear power reactors are confirmed or planned for export construction. Foreign orders totalled $133 billion in late 2017.
        Russia is a world leader in fast neutron reactor technology and is consolidating this through its Proryv (‘Breakthrough’) project.”

        This hardly seems like the behaviour of a country bent on terrorizing the world public into abandoning nuclear power.

        The article goes on to say: “Russia is one of the few countries without a populist energy policy favouring wind and solar generation; the priority is unashamedly nuclear.”

        Further along in the article one can find this quote: “UES’s gas-fired plants burn about 60% of the gas marketed in Russia by Gazprom, and plans were to halve this by 2020. (Also, by 2020, the Western Siberian gas fields will be so depleted that they would supply only one-tenth of current Russian output, compared with nearly three-quarters in about 2010.)” If I was in the gas exporting business in Russia at the present time, I don’t think that I would be betting against nuclear.

        Usually the most prosaic explanation for an event is the most accurate one.


        1. Charles – Occam knew nothing about international geopolitics.

          Russia has a strong nuclear program, I’ll grant that. They also have a big order book for nuclear projects, almost all of which are in places that do not currently purchase much Russian oil and gas.

          But Russia and (and the Russian dominated Soviet Union) have long had a major interest in scaring the Western public away from nuclear energy use and development. Russia Today (aka RT) has carried innumerable stories stoking the Fukushima Frenzy. Russia played a big role in convincing Germans to fear nuclear so much that they democratically voted to close all of its existing (and internationally well respected) nuclear plants. A part of that effort included purchasing the services of Gerhard Schroeder, the Chancellor that was replaced by Angela Merkel.

          He was the populist leader of the effort to devise the EnergieWende and helped pass the plan to eliminate nuclear energy. Immediately after he left office, he went to work for Gazprom and has spent the past dozen years directing efforts to build the capacity to transmit large quantities of Russian gas directly to Germany, without passing through any other countries.


  6. Just to complicate the picture, the monitors in Norway indicate there were 2 explosions, a couple of hours apart. The radioactive material detected was from the second explosion, which was airborne, because it left no seismic signal.
    So we have several people contaminated and killed in a ground based accident, followed by a larger release from an airborne event.
    To me, that suggests a reactor issue at launch, with the flight vehicle sent off to explode somewhere else, to minimize the damage.

  7. Rod,

    I read with interest the news article, the link to which you provided. The behaviour of Schroeder does point to some sort of skulduggery

    But my comment was regarding the use of skewed reporting on the recent explosion in Russia to advance an anti-nuclear agenda. How does one selectively affect public opinion against nuclear energy by such a tactic, only in those countries to which it does not hope to sell nuclear technology?

    Occam’s understanding of the human condition ran much deeper than geopolitics.

    1. Charles:

      It’s actually quite easy for Russia to selectively affect public opinion agains nuclear technology in countries where it has few hopes of selling much equipment and services.

      Can you name any G-7 or OECD nations that are likely to buy a Russian nuclear power plant?

        1. David – Thank you.

          I had forgotten how much the OECD had expanded when I made my comment. Among the current 37 members, there are several others that have enough historical alignment with Russia to be potential customers.

          But Western Europe, Japan and North America are both unlikely customers and avid consumers of scary stories involving nuclear and Russia’s untrustworthy nature.

          With some training in propaganda and public opinion shaping, it’s not too hard to believe that Russian communications specialists understand the value of providing evasive responses when questioned about any nuclear related event.

      1. The salient question with respect to Russia using evasive responses to questions regarding a nuclear related event to prejudice public opinion against nuclear power is: Can you name any country which is a prospective market for Russian nuclear technology, whose population would not have access to those same evasive responses?


        As special relativity subsumed Newtonian Physics, so Occam’s Razor subsumes geopolitics.

  8. I rather think that the interests of Rosatom and Gazprom are not aligned. In this particular incident I opine that the older Empire – Soviet tendencies towards secrecy held sway. After all, Putin calls the Russian Federation an illiberal democracy and deplored the demise of the USSR.

    So, secrecy is a good which prevails throughout. Too bad for a country with such a fine heritage. For example, this year is the 150th anniversary of Mendeleev’s first periodic table of the elements.

  9. Agreed that Rosatom & Gazprom have conflicting interests. Which do you think contributes more to Russia’s national income and geopolitical power?

    Definitely not a case of one company-one vote

    1. In 2017 Gazprom had revenue of $112 billion and Rosneft $103 billion. Lukoil turned over $102 billion, Novatek 10 billion, and Surgutneftgas 18 billion ( in 2016). Rosatom’s international revenues were $6 billion.

  10. Rod,

    In point of fact, in conformance with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, predicting the behaviour of sub-atomic particles isn’t significantly easier than predicting human behaviour. But that discussion is very oblique to the discussion at hand.

    The reason that I feel compelled to challenge what appears to me to be fabricated criticisms of Russia is because those fabricated criticisms distract attention from the legion of legitimate, well documented criticisms of that country; and because it allows Russia to hide behind a persecution defense (I.E.- See, everybody’s always blaming us for stuff that we didn’t do.)

    Further to that, virtually ever country on the planet is evasive when commenting on accidents related to their ongoing military technology development.


    1. Looks like a typical graduate thesis reactor. That doesn’t make it an invalid concept; it is similar to many others in the “uranium battery” line… must have had a buddy at Forbes.

      1. @scaryjello

        The lead author of the papers on SLIMM and VSLIMM is Mohamed S. El-Genk. It’s rather disrespectful to dismiss his work as “a typical graduate thesis reactor.”

        I’d put SLIMM/VSLIMM into the same category as such maturing concepts as NuScale’s natural circulation light water reactors and Kairos’s Floride High Temperature reactors. All of them grew out of university research lab projects and all of them have been steadily led by university professors with commercial instincts.

        There’s still a lengthy path to commercialization, but that doesn’t invalidate the effort or the potential.

        PS – All reasonably well developed nuclear energy concepts have a friend at Forbes. Jim Conca writes a column every week. I’ve heard him tell several different audiences that he is always looking for new, interesting material.

      2. @AtomicRod: Apologies for striking that nerve there…, but
        Many people are competent to perform fluid hydraulic calculations for vertical/horizontal/annular pipe runs, rod bundles, etc.. Sophisticated fluid dynamics software is publicly available to facilitate these types of analyses; it was written decades ago under the national labs. These packages are the foundation of LWR licensing. Countless PhDs came out of developing these methods. Given time and money and horsepower any state university can be expected to return a reasonable SMR design using these methods – many of them will look alike. Convergent evolution. They will all be feasible and none of them will be built unless picked up and further developed by an engineering firm such as GE or LM.
        At a casual glance, SLIMM borrows heavily from PRISM; note the RVACS. The core appears simpler than PRISM. As far as flexible cycle length: any core that contains X EFPY of energy at power level Y can release that energy over 10X calendar years at Y/10 power level. It sounds great to say that SLIMM can make 1MW for 66 years just like my PWR can easily operate for 3 years at half power. I maintain that this reactor concept is simply another exercise for a new crop of graduates that must make their analysis bones on something interesting. These graduates are lucky to work with such an adviser as Dr. Genk.
        Being the subject of an article in a financial publication does not imply that this particular assembly of annular buckets/pipes/tubes is any more likely to progress into a working system than the 5 other nuclear battery concepts. It may be good and I did not dismiss SLIMM on the basis of quality – more on the basis of probability.

      3. @Rod

        You may not agree SLIMM is a textbook example Rickover’s omnibus academic reactor as he described in essay on June 5th, 1953. Many SLIMM attributes described in the Forbes article can be sorted under various bullet points in the deeply cutting “Paper Reactors” essay.

        We all expect that a decorated group of PhDs and their minions should be able to deliver a workable concept reactor given money and time. We have no shortage of workable concepts yet we still build nothing because there is no real demand. In the absence of commercial demand the DOE provides funding for these exploratory studies to maintain some human capital (expertise). There is barely enough employment for 1500, [specifically] nuclear engineers in North America. Anything extra helps; we can always use more people in the industry that say they ‘designed’ a reactor in college.

        In my opinion, the only reason to mess with sodium cooled reactors is to breed fissile material, and clearly this small reactor is not designed to do that.

        I am not surprised that competent fellow-level engineers can deliver a robust concept. Was anyone outside of the DOE asking for such a thing? Clearly it would be misguided for the DOD to build something at a FOB that a drone could upset with a well placed 50kg bomb.

        1. I’ve never been scared off of evaluating good ideas by a 50+ year old statement by an admittedly successful, but jealously parochial program manager.

          Rickover’s paper reactor warning had a clearly selfish purpose when it was written. He mistakenly believed that his program was the ONLY one worth supporting.

  11. Frikkin’ NATURE quotes Gundersen’s pal Marco Kaltofen repeatedly — taking the former Greenpeace International organiser for a “nuclear scientist”.

    Nature doesn’t mention that fact.

    More to the point, Kaltofen mistook a video of another event in Russia, for the Nenoksa event on an offshore platform: https://vk.com/video134186368_456239359

    More here, including my comments:

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