US fears Russia may detonate nuclear weapon in space: What are the risks?
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The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Turner, voicing concerns about a threat to US national security, has called on President Joe Biden to declassify all information related to nuclear weapons in space, which US media sources indicate involves Russia's plans to develop anti-satellite capabilities. A development briefed to the US Congress and European allies, as the New York Times reported.

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The exact nature of the potential Russian weapon, whether it involves detonating a nuclear explosive device in space or another form of anti-satellite technology powered by a space nuclear reactor, remains unclear.

Intelligence data provided to Congress indicates that the US military cannot counter such weapons and protect its satellites. The report adds that US government officials do not believe such a weapon will be deployed imminently, but there is a limited window of time to prevent its launch and deployment.

Orbital nuclear weapons are currently prohibited under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, though recent concerns have emerged that Russia might withdraw from the treaty to continue the militarization of space.

Concerns about the development of such weapons spread following Mike Turner's statement and his call to Joe Biden. Other Congress members responded to Turner's request by downplaying the seriousness of reports that Russia is attempting to create nuclear space weapons. "The classified intelligence product that the House Intelligence Committee called to the attention of Members last night is a significant one, but it is not a cause for panic," said Congressman Jim Himes, a senior member of the House of Representatives. He added that declassifying the information should not be a public discussion.

House Speaker Mike Johnson also made a statement, further downplaying the threat: "I saw Chairman Turner’s statement on the issue and I want to assure the American people there’s no need for public alarm."

The surge of information about Russia's orbital weapon coincides with Russia's launch of a secret satellite, known as "Cosmos 2575," on February 9. Subsequently, the US Space Force launched six satellites designed to detect and track missile launches.

High-energy emissions such as heat, X-rays, and other radiation could damage nearby satellites and blind their sensors, according to a 2023 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

US fears Russia may detonate nuclear weapon in space: What are the risks?
Consequences of the 1962 explosion. US public domain

In terms of long-term effects, the natural radiation belts that surround our planet could trap the radiation released by a nuclear explosion, creating longer radiation belts that would cause harmful effects on satellites.

Such effects were observed after the US detonated a nuclear warhead at high altitude in 1962 during the Starfish Prime nuclear test, conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission, the predecessor of the Department of Energy. During the test, the 1.4-megaton device exploded at an altitude of 400 km above the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. In the same year, the Soviet Union also detonated three nuclear devices at high altitudes.

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