Moscow: Russian authorities on Tuesday announced the evacuation of the village nearest to the site of a nuclear accident in northern Russia, suggesting dangers more grave than initially reported.

The still-mysterious incident last week killed seven people and released radiation, apparently when a small nuclear reactor malfunctioned during a test of a novel type of missile near a naval weapons testing site.

Russian officials have released a flurry of misleading or incomplete statements downplaying the severity of the accident, which the military first reported on Thursday as a fire involving a liquid-fuelled rocket engine. It was not until Sunday that Russian scientists conceded a reactor had released radiation during a test on an offshore platform in the White Sea.

That pattern of murkiness continued on Tuesday, as news reports and official statements offered only the vaguest explanation for the evacuation and hours later indicated it had been called off.

Officials have insisted radiation levels are not elevated and that the displacement of the population of the village, home to about 450 people, should not be called an evacuation.

Residents of Nenoksa, the village closest to the incident, were told to leave on a special train that would be sent to their community, TV29, a local news outlet, reported on Tuesday. There was no indication when it might be safe for them to return.

Later on Tuesday, however, a report on Interfax suggested the evacuation might have been called off.

President Vladimir Putin boasted last year that Russia was testing a cruise missile that would be propelled by a small nuclear reactor, in addition to carrying a nuclear warhead, flying a path too unpredictable to be intercepted.

Western analysts called the missile “Skyfall,” and on Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted that the accident last week was a Skyfall exploding.

Russian statements about the intensity of the radiation release have been contradictory. Scientists with the Russian Federal Nuclear Agency said Sunday that radiation levels had climbed briefly to twice the background level in Severodvinsk, about 40 km from the test site.

But on Tuesday, Russia’s national meteorological agency reported radiation had risen last week to 16 times the norm in that city. No reports indicated the level in Nenoksa, located on the edge of the test range.

The New York Times

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