- The head of Russia's navy, Admiral Vladimir
Kuroyedov, has said "an unauthorised launch of nuclear missiles from
Russian submarines is in principle impossible and categorically ruled out."
- He was responding to a study in the New
England Journal of Medicine which said that the risk of accidental nuclear
attack has increased in recent years.
- It called Russia the "focus of greatest
concern," and used a hypothetical accidental attack from a Russian
submarine to illustrate the possible human cost.
- The report cited a Washington Post newspaper
interview with then Russian Defence Minister Igor Rodionov.
- It says he warned last year, "No
one today can guarantee the reliability of our control systems.... Russia
might soon reach the threshold beyond which its rockets and nuclear systems
cannot be controlled."
- Admiral Kuroyedov said the allegations
were "totally out of line with reality" and that the safety systems
of Russian strategic nuclear forces "are in complete order, serviceable
and operate with absolute reliability".
- Report is more opinion than rigorous
- The journal's deputy editor, Gregory
Curfman, acknowledged that most of the report lobbies against atomic weapons,
making it more of an opinion piece than scientific evaluation.
- The study is part of a campaign called
Abolition 2000. It seeks a signed global agreement by the year 2000 committing
the world to the permanent abolition of nuclear weapons within a specified
- Mr Curfman said the study had been reviewed
by peers and published because doctors have an interest in the topic.
- "The scenarios we felt were pretty
speculative and it contains elements of opinion," he said
- "But we decided that if there were
one of these accidents, there would be serious health implications to discuss."
- Frightening scenario
- The authors say that a single Russian
submarine could kill up to seven million people in the United States.
- The study's co-author Theodore Postol,
a former Navy weapons expert now with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
said the Russians "have had a lot of trouble with their submarine
- Mr Postol and the study's lead author,
Dr Lachlan Forrow of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, said authorities
believe that a launch based on a false warning of a nuclear attack would
be the most plausible scenario for an accidental attack.
- They noted that several false alarms
had already occurred in both the United States and Russia.
- "An attack such as the one we have
described would not only cause more than six million immediate Americans'
deaths in nuclear firestorms ... and not only cause the hundreds of thousands
or millions of additional casualties as a result of radiation injuries,
but plausibly trigger a US nuclear response," Dr Forrow said.
- Governments are unconcerned
- But both the Clinton and Yeltsin administrations
have assured the world repeatedly that plenty of safeguards against an
accidental strike do exist.
- A White House spokesman said: "We
believe there is good command and control of both the US and Russian deployed
nuclear weapons that would preclude an accidental launch."
- Mikhail Shurgalim, a Russian Embassy
spokesman in Washington, also scoffed at the scenario.
- He said safeguards would "prevent
any such disastrous thing," saying the paper sounded "like total