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The Race To Find Russia’s Lost Nuke

In November of 2017, Russian defense forces launched a high-tech, nuclear-armed missile from a small base called Pankovo on Yuzhny Island, an uninhabited strip of land which has been used in nuclear weapons testing since the 1950’s. The launch was an early-phase test of the extremely powerful Burevestnik missile. The Burevestnik program is an attempt by the Kremlin to develop a weapon that is both nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered, meaning it is driven by a sustained nuclear reaction that could potentially allow it to travel unlimited distances and stay in flight for a nearly unlimited amount of time. During the test launch, however, the missile only traveled for a brief two-minutes before it lost directional control and was sent screaming out of the sky into the remote waters somewhere off the northern coast of Russia.

After the missile splashed down, the Russian government lost track of its location, and search teams were unable to recover it intact or locate any possible debris. Given its short flight time, the radius that the missile could have traveled before crashing is limited. Yuzhny Island is the southern island of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago that splits the Barents Sea to the west from the Kara Sea to the east. Given that the launch angle of the missile was decidedly in the northwest direction, away from civilization, it seems most likely that the downed Burevestnik, a top-secret and potentially game-changing weapon, is still hiding somewhere in the sprawling Barents Sea. And with this information now leaked into the public sphere, it’s a safe bet that the Russians aren’t the only ones hunting for it…

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