A new nuclear power struggle

On 8th August, the inhabitants of Moscow were surprised when their televisions flicked from their standard programmes to a blue screen with a single star. It was a weather warning telling the people to find shelter. It then disappeared leaving people wondering just what had happened. At the same time in Severodvinsk, a small town in the North-West not far from the Finnish border was exposed to gamma radiation 3x higher than is permissible for human health after an explosion at the nearby Nyonoksa top-secret testing facility.

The explosion at Nyonoksa facility killed several including nuclear scientists. Russian weather service, Rosgidromet, recorded levels of radiation 16x higher than normal levels within the vicinity of Nyonoksa. In true Cold War style, residents were quick to stockpile iodine, known to stop the Thyroid from absorbing radiation. The explosion killed several including nuclear scientists working on the project.

After more correspondence it was finally let on that the explosion was down to the failure of an “isotope” power source. Russia was testing the infamous Storm Petrel missile at the Nyonoksa site. The Storm Petrel missile – called Skyfall by NATO – was unveiled by Russian president Vladimir Putin at the State of the Union address in 2018 and boasts a propulsion system powered by a miniature nuclear reactor which gives a potential flight time that could be measured in days, weeks or even months.

Having extended range plus cruise-missile capabilities – meaning that it can change direction, move around objects and evade interception – would mean that the missile would be harder to detect and defend against.

Another new and chilling piece of kit that Russia are working on – Poseidon – is an autonomous drone submarine which is programmed to unleash nuclear warheads on key enemy locations on the US west coast should Russia “go dark.”

Due to a series of agreements, Russia and America have not tested nuclear devices for twenty years. However, Russia have breached the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. Donald Trump responded by removing America from the pact. The New Start agreement which ensures Russia and the US have a limit on how many intercontinental nuclear missiles they can produce, runs out in 2021 and may not be renewed, thus giving America and Russia free reign to progress their arsenals and potentially make another power grab.

The US has been stepping up spending in nuclear warfare infrastructure with former President Barack Obama developing a $1.2tn plan to “maintain US air, sea and land-based nuclear weapons.” Donald Trump has gone much further putting an additional $500bn including $17bn for the production of a “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapon, essentially a mini-nuke that can be used on the battlefront.

It is rumoured that some factions within the Pentagon and within the defence contractor sector believe that Russia’s move away from agreements is a step in the right direction.

America’s nuclear defence capabilities are ageing and therefore, like many wars before, this will drive innovation and strengthen America’s standing.

Tensions are rising not only between the US and Russia (who between them hold little over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal) but with China, Iran and North Korea all flexing their muscles, we could be looking at the age of a new Cold War with new frontiers.

The point by point scaling up of nuclear armaments is not the only evidence of a new Cold War. Russia and China flexed their muscles during the Brexit and Presidential election campaigns with industrial scale levels of spreading disinformation. Seeing their success during these campaigns, Vladimir Putin is pushing further. At what cost?