Soviets admit nuclear satellite to fall to Earth

MOSCOW -- The Soviet Union admitted Friday a nuclear-powered spy satellite launched in December will plunge to Earth within four months, but said steps will be taken to ensure its radioactive parts are no danger to man or the environment.

The official Tass news agency said all radio contact with the Cosmos 1900 satellite was lost in April.


Soviet space officials were continuing to monitor its deteriorating orbit but have no control over the satellite, Tass said.

The artificial Earth nuclear-powered satellite Cosmos 1900 was launched Dec. 12, 1987, Tass said.

'The satellite will fly in orbit until August-September 1988, after which it will cease to exist.' Tass said. 'The satellite Cosmos 1900 has systems ensuring radiation safety on completion of the flight.'

The Tass announcement followed comments Wednesday by a British Defense Ministry spokesman who said his government was tracking the satellite and that due to its deteriorating orbit 160 miles above the Earth, there was a chance Cosmos 1900 might crash to Earth within two to three months.

Western experts have said they fear Cosmos 1900, a spy satellite that tracks Western ships at sea, may break apart as it falls back to Earth, possibly spreading radioactive debris from its 100-pound nuclear reactor over populated areas.


The atomic reactor supplies power to a massive radar system used to track sea traffic, often for military purposes.

In 1978, the nuclear-powered Soviet satellite Cosmos 951 fell from orbit, unexpectedly spreading radioactive debris over a large section of northern Canada. The largest piece of non-nuclear Soviet space junk to fall from the sky was Cosmos 1767, which broke up over the Indian Ocean in August 1986.

Western space experts said they believe that such nuclear-powered Soviet satellites have a built-in 'fail-safe' system that boosts the nuclear power plant into a higher orbit where it drifts for decades before finally disintegrating.

Should that system somehow fail, the reactor section may break apart from the main satellite body and burn up on re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, they said.

But if the reactor section fails to separate, the experts said there is a good chance the reactor would survive the intense heat of re-entry and present a potential danger to man and the environment.

The brief Tass announcement did not specify what would ensure the Cosmos 1900's nuclear power supply does not fall to Earth.

Latest Headlines