An explosion on Monday caused a fire in the State Research Center for Virology and Biotechnology, a biological research facility in Siberia known to be one of the two centers in the world to hold samples of live pox viruses. Atlanta's US Centers for Disease Control and Control (CDC) are the only place where living samples of the deadly pathogen are kept.
According to the head administrator of Koltsovo, where the research center is commonly referred to as the Vector Institute, the explosion occurred during scheduled maintenance. The incident is not a threat to the surrounding community, said Nikolai Krasnikov to the Russian news agency TASS. According to TASS no biological hazardous substances were involved. One worker was injured and taken to hospital with burns. Russia Today reported that rescue workers considered the blast and fire a major event in the face of Vector Institute's sensitive work.
The Vector Institute is known for its world-class epidemiological research. According to TASS researchers have recently completed successful trials of an Ebola vaccine earlier this year. Despite this call, questions were asked about the institute. A high-ranking Soviet bio-weapons commissioner who emigrated to the United States in the 1990s claimed that the smallpox had been transferred to the Vector Institute to study biological weapons.
The CDC, the world's other smallpox camp, also had questions about its security processes and infrastructure. In 2016 USA Today published a survey on center failures, including a 2009 incident in which scientists in biohazard suits seeped light into a decontamination chamber suspecting workers who had just worked with deadly pathogens to be doused in a chemical shower.
The last known smallpox outbreak was in 1977, and the World Health Organization declared the disease eradicated in 1980. The disease killed about 300 million people in the 20th century and three out of every ten people who suffered from it died. Survivors were often scarred and left blind.
Monday's blast is relatively closely following another explosion in a Russian facility where high-tech and risky research is being conducted. In August, five nuclear scientists died in an accident on a rocket test field. US officials believe researchers worked locally on a nuclear-powered cruise missile.