MOSCOW — The Russian authorities removed three American diplomats from a train heading to an Arctic town near the site of a recent nuclear accident, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday.
The removal occurred on Monday in the shipyard town of Severodvinsk, according to Interfax, a Russian news agency. The diplomats were about to take a train to Nenoksa, the village closest to the military testing site where a mysterious explosion in August left seven people dead and caused a spike in radiation levels miles away.
Both Nenoksa and Severodvinsk, which stand about 25 miles apart, are closed cities that require foreigners to obtain a special permit from the authorities before arriving. Russians must also gain special approval to enter Nenoksa.
A State Department spokesperson said in an email on Wednesday that the American diplomats “were on official travel and had properly notified Russian authorities of their travel.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry acknowledged the fact that the diplomats had notified the Russian Defense Ministry about their plans, according to Interfax.
“But they only stated their plans to visit Arkhangelsk,” the ministry said, referring to the regional capital, about 26 miles east of Severodvinsk. “Then they appeared on the Nenoksa-Severodvisnk train,” the statement continued. “Perhaps they got lost.”
The ministry also said it was ready “to present a map of Russia to the American Embassy,” the news agency reported.
The Russian authorities have said very little about the accident on Aug. 8, which took place at a Russian Navy rocket testing range on the White Sea. Five Russian nuclear scientists and two military officers died as a result of the explosion, and the accident tripped radiation meters in two cities, including Arkhangelsk.
Two days after the explosion, Rosatom, the Russian nuclear agency, said it occurred as a result of a test involving “isotopic sources of fuel on a liquid propulsion unit.”
Shortly after the accident, the local authorities in Severodvinsk released a statement reporting a spike in radiation levels, and the authorities announced an evacuation of Nenoksa. The statement was quickly removed from the city’s website, and days of rumors, conflicting reports and near-total silence from the authorities followed.
The government’s response raised fears that it intended to hide the real consequences of the accident, and brought back memories of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, when the Soviet authorities kept people in the dark about the accident for days.
Follow Ivan Nechepurenko on Twitter: @INechepurenko.