Meteors Against Nukes

The meteor impacted near large Russian nuclear weapons facilities..

By Hans M. Kristensen

When the news media reported that a meteor had exploded over Chelyabinsk in Russia, the location name sounded familiar: the region is home to some of Russia’s most important nuclear weapons production and storage facilities.

Impact sites still have to be found but one reportedly was Chebarkul Lake, some 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of the city of Chelyabinsk. Another piece impacted near the town of Zlatoust some 80 kilometers (49 miles) to the northwest.

Approximately 88 kilometers (55 miles) northeast of Chebarkul Lake is Chelyabinsk-65 (Mayak), a plutonium production and fissile material storage complex. Another 40 miles to the north is Chelyabinsk-70 (Snezhinsk), a nuclear warhead design and storage complex.

Right in the meteor’s path, approximately 115 kilometers (72 miles) southwest of Chebarkul Lake, is Zlatoust-36, one of the two main warhead assembly and disassembly facilities in Russia. Adjacent to the facility is a national-level nuclear weapons storage site.

The odds of a meteor hitting one of these nuclear weapons production or storage site are probably infinitely small, but on a cosmic scale it got pretty close. Just how much damage a direct hit of a sizable chunk of the meteor could have caused is unknown, but the 17-meter (55 feet) meteor reportedly released energy equivalent to nearly 500 kilotons of TNT. That’s roughly the explosive yield of one of the W88 warheads carried on Trident II missiles onboard U.S. ballistic missile submarines.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

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One Response to “Meteors Against Nukes”

  1. 3.1415 February 22, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    The trajectory was from Alaska to Russia. The meteor flew in the atmosphere for some 30 seconds. Was there any sign that the early warning system of Russia was mobilized? The last thing one wants is for the meteor (from the direction of Alaska) to hit a Russian nuke facility. Does NASA know about this beforehand? It would be nice for them to tell our Russian friends.

    Reply: For analysis of what Russia radars saw, see Pavel Podvig’s article Did Russian early-warning system see the meteorite?. Neither NASA nor Russia controls the heavens and even if NASA detected something, it happened too fast to tell anyone and certainly too fast for anyone to get out of the way. HK

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