Russia's nuclear-powered Skyfall cruise missile boasts a virtually unlimited range, but is considered an environmental disaster. Credit: Handout.

“Why on earth would you have a nuclear-powered, nuclear-tipped cruise missile? That is nothing more than a flying Chernobyl,” an exasperated Marshall Billingslea told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C. 

US President Donald Trump’s nominee for a top arms control post in the State Department said Russia should stop developing what US officials believe is a reckless nuclear-powered cruise missile — the Burevestnik — The Moscow Times reported.

The Burevestnik, which NATO designates as SSC-X-9 Skyfall, is believed to have exploded during secret rocket engine tests at sea in northern Russia last August, instantly killing five scientists and sending everyday Russians hurrying to pharmacies to buy anti-radiation pills.

The explosion reportedly involved a small nuclear reactor that powers the long-range cruise missile, National Interest reported.

An accidental explosion is exactly the risk that Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, feared when he described the SSC-X-9 as “batshit crazy.”

According to National Interest, the US military worked on a cruise missile powered by a tiny and unsafe atomic reactor in the 1960s — they soon discovered, it was not a good idea.

“It was an environmental nightmare,” Lewis explained. Every time the military launched a nuclear-powered cruise missile, even in testing, it would’ve sent a potentially unstable reactor out into the world without many safeguards to prevent accidents.

The Pentagon canceled the project in 1964.

No surprise then, that Russian media have described the Burevestnik, which President Vladimir Putin has hailed as being unlimited in range and able to evade US missile shields, as a “small flying Chernobyl,” Moscow Times reported.

Billingslea, Trump’s nominee for the arms control post, said he’s been “very clear with my Russian counterpart that these are enormous wastes of funds” and that Moscow should “cease and desist and abandon these kinds of destabilizing ideas.”

“We frankly don’t think these weapons should exist at all,” Billingslea told US senators during nomination hearings, Moscow Times reported.

He said Russian-US arms control negotiations would cover some of the nuclear and hypersonic weapons that Putin unveiled ahead of his re-election in 2018, but stressed that they should include the “Strangelovian” Burevestnik weapon, considered an odd throwback to the Cold War era.

“Just think about the radioactive plume that it would generate as it circles. There’s no good argument [and] logic for having these kinds of doomsday systems,” Billingslea told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Billingslea tweeted earlier in July that the US views the Burevestnik and the futuristic Poseidon “doomsday drone” as “terrible concepts” that Russia should shelve on humanitarian concerns, Moscow Times reported.

The so-called “mad scientist” Poseidon drone is designed to be fired toward a coastline, exploding offshore and theoretically causing a tsunami — not everyone believes it would actually work, however.

One ballistic expert told Asia Times the wave reaction would be circular, rather than linear, and just end up killing a lot of fish and nearby ships. As a first-strike weapon, it would also telegraph Russian intentions, making it somewhat useless.

Still, President Putin champions them as nationalistic, state-of-the-art weapons, to disengage the populace over his dismal failure on the economic front.