Skip to comments.Soldiers of the Chelyabinsk Chernobyl
Posted on 09/28/2004 5:13:58 PM PDT by struwwelpeter
In the early days of the Cold War, in one of Russia's most secretive regions, stood a city without a name. There, at a classified military facility, an explosion occurred which was been kept hidden for more than two decades. During those long years no one knew of it except for the few who lived in the region of the catastrophy. This tragic story and the name of the top secret city are now known - it was near Chelyabinsk, and the factory where the explosion occurred - Mayak. The area was also known as Chelyabinsk-40. The city that produced Russia's first atom bomb was later renamed Chelyabinsk-65, while nowadays it's known as Ozersk (City of Lakes).
There are a lot of lakes around Ozersk. For the longest time the Demidov industrial concern was located in this beautiful place. Their smelting plants produced high-quality copper and pig-iron, and Demidov's products were in use far beyond Russia's borders.
After World War II, an especially secret project was begun in this region. The Cold War with the US required the immediate construction of an atomic bomb as a counterbalance to the American weapon. In 1949, industrial-scientific co-op Mayak became the first in the nation to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Stories circulate that Soviet physicist I.V. Kuchatov carried the first capsules containing grams of this lethal element from the reactor in his naked hands. The successful test of the Soviet atomic bomb later that year had huge military-political consequences, and shook American president Harry Truman's administration fundamentally.
In 1957, little was known about the possible effects of radiation, and scientists were confused about this mysterious, invisible death. Soldiers and officers from the internal security force who guarded the secret facility, however, were already dying of it.
On the October 7th, 1957, a week after the disaster, internal minister N. Dudurov received the following report:
"Accidental gas explosion at special installation. Because of this a large quantity of radioactive particles were released into the air. The cloud of particles remained for over the area of the explosion for some time."
The wind soon picked up and sent this cloud to the northeast. As a result, at the explosion site and all along the cloud's path a massive quantity of radioactive particles contaminated the installation, as well as areas all over the Kalinskiy region.
The explosion occurred due to internal overheating of one the reserviors used to store highly-radioactive liquid waste. During seven years of nuclear production, wastes were handled in the simplest of ways - just dumped in the Techa and Iset' rivers. Later on, wastes were dumped into Lake Karachai.
V. Novoselov and V. Tolstikov, authors of the novel The Secret of 'Forty', wrote that Sunday, September 29, 1957, was a warm, sunny day. City dwellers were occupied with the usual matters, and many were at the Khimik (Chemist) football stadium where there was a match between two local soccer teams. According to their book:
"At around 16:30 there was the thunder of an explosion in the area of the factory. For a time residents didn't pay attention, since there had been many loud noises coming from the secret installation. As eyewitnesses later recalled, following the explosion a column of smoke rose up and reached a height of almost a kilometer. From it twinkled a red-orange. It gave the appearance of the Northern Lights."
Almost 30 years before Chernobyl, this turned out to be one of the most serious nuclear accidents in the world. For the longest time all reports were closely-guarded secrets, and practically nothing was known about it in the West. Not until 1979, when Soviet dissendent Zh. Mevedev published a science article called: "Nuclear Catastrophy in the Urals", in which he gave details of the September, 1957, tragedy. Even after its publication, many American specialists remained convinced that the Russians were producing and testing their nuclear weapons on the remote artic isle of Novaya Zemlya, and that one of the mushroom clouds from there had blown over the southern Urals.
A small brochure of articles has been published concerning the atomic industry in our country (Russia). Until this came out, the general public was unaware that, in 1957, 20 million curies of radioactive particles were released into the environment. The eastern Ural radioactive footprint covers a territory of 250 square kilometers and holds a population of 270,000.
Eighteen million curies of this contamination remained at the nuclear storage site, while about two million were picked up by the winds. The cloud covered many of the buildings at the Mayak chemical factory, as well as the fire-fighting and military units. A regiment of engineer troops was also contaminated, as well as a prison camp with about 3000 inmates, who worked in the factory.
A group of about 200 industrial interns from Moscow were also working at the plant on that day. They were billeted in an open barracks, and on September 30th they were assisting soldiers at the plant. When the explosion occurred, its force blew in the barracks windows, and the metal gates around the storage site were destroyed. The soldiers ran outside, and a few went to the park around the barracks where they assumed defensive positions. It was not known whether the source of the explosion was an accident or hostile action. One gate guard jumped into a sewer manhole and set up his foxhole there.
A huge column of dust rose above the site where radioactive wastes were stored, and it was blown by the wind in the direction of the regiment. Soon this thick, dark-brown cloud hung over the barracks, and brought twilight to what was a bright, sunny day. The men were frightened. Guard dogs howled without pause, and birds were nowhere to be seen.
In the first hours after the explosion, the largest radioactive particles rained down on the heads of the men, and the contamination was intense. Smaller particles, with a cottony consistency, continued to fall into the next day.
As soon as the cloud covered the base, the military immediately called for dosimeters. Contamination readings were off the scale and showed that the area needed to be evacuated. As a precaution, all servicemen were decontamined in a bathhouse, where they were hosed down for several hours in hot water. But this decontamination had rather poor results.
On the next day they began to remove weapons and ammunition from the contaminated area. Many of the arms were so heavily contaminated that they had to be buried inside a boiler. Weapons that were contaminated to a lesser extent, the soldiers tried to wash. The guns' wooden parts were rubbed down with sandpaper, while the metal was scrubbed using sand and steel wool. The weapons could not be completely decontaminated, and the armory refused to accept "dirty" weapons. Many soldiers spend their last hours on earth engaged in this bureaucratic nonsense. The next day most of them fell ill with symptoms of radiation poisoning: hair loss, diarrhea, burns, and anemia. An unknown but large number of soldiers died soon after.
In addition to the heavier particles, an eight to nine kilometer-wide "nuclear tongue", laden with Stontium-90, fell on the surrounding region. Carried by a strong southwest wind, the cloud passed through the forests, fields and lakes of the Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk and Tyumen regions - an area of 1000 square kilometers. It was necessary to evacuate more than 10,000 people from 23 villages surrounding the disaster site. Many of these also took sick and died.
In 1958, 59 thousand hectares were removed from agricultural use in the Chelyabinsk region, and 47 thousand hectares from the Svedlovsk region. For two years this land lay fallow. Even today the Russian government finds it necessary to disguise the origin of products from this region, and sanitary-health authorities allow the sale of Chelyabinsk products only on a rotating basis throughout Russia, to lessen the risk of overdose. To remove this region eternally from agricultural production has yet to enter the minds of the authorities.
As a result of the accident, more than 124,000 people received lethal overdoses of radiation, dying over an extended period ranging from days to years. In the spring of 1963, as if to punish mankind even further, the region suffered a severe drought. Shallow, boggy Lake Karachai completely dried out and a duststorm blew particles from the lake's highly contaminated bottom all over the area, adding to the eastern Ural radioactive catastrophy another 40,000 victims. These disasters were later known collectively as the Khyshtym tragedy, and caused more casualties than even Chernobyl.
According to official statistics, the Chernobyl disaster led to 32 deaths. In April, 1991, Soviet scientist Vladimir Chernyshenko reported that at the very least, from 7 to 10,000 people died as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.
As a history buff, I found this to be a fascinating read. Thanks for posting it.
The price of parity in the Cold War was paid in human blood. BTT.
During seven years of nuclear production, wastes were handled in the simplest of ways - just dumped in the Techa and Iset' rivers. Later on, wastes were dumped into Lake Karachai.
Anybody have that link for that Chick who rides a motorcycle through Chernobyl ?????
Thats it! Thank You
From Calpernia: "Appreciate any help to them in the Ukraine. I'm President of the Rivne Regional Funding system. The money doesn't trickle down through the State. It goes directly to the Region."
Russian Minister Fears Collapse of Chernobyl ShieldReuters to My Yahoo! ^ | Tue Apr 22,11:04 AM ET | Oliver Bullough
Posted on 04/22/2003 8:56:04 PM CDT by Calpernia
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The concrete shield thrown up to block radiation escaping the Chernobyl nuclear power station after it exploded in 1986 is collapsing and needs urgent reinforcement, Russia's atomic energy minister said Tuesday.
Alexander Rumyantsev was speaking at a news conference almost exactly 17 years after one of Chernobyl's four reactors exploded and spewed clouds of radioactivity over much of Europe in the world's worst civilian nuclear disaster.
"We can see a situation where the roof could fall in, or rather the supports that hold up the roof could fall down," he said, adding that the concrete itself was leaking radiation.
"There are a lot of holes in the sarcophagus," he said.
He said workers from his ministry involved in monitoring the reactor in ex-Soviet Ukraine kept him informed.
"I know how the sarcophagus was built. It was built in difficult radioactive conditions for the builders. They had to work fast to get away from the danger," he said.
"We need to surround it with another sarcophagus."
The Chernobyl disaster killed about 30 firefighters in the immediate aftermath, and many of the people involved in the clean-up died in the next weeks.
Rumyantsev said a collapse of the Soviet-era sarcophagus, dramatic as it may be, would have much more limited consequences than the original disaster.
"There is a strong chance it could happen, but it would not be such a catastrophe, it would be more of a local affair," he said. "It would be bad for Ukraine."
Rumyantsev, a staunch believer in the future of nuclear energy, said that despite the shock experienced by the public in 1986, estimates of the number of victims were often exaggerated.
Environmentalists and doctors in Ukraine say there have been thousands of deaths from radiation-related illnesses and a huge increase in thyroid cancer following the accident.
"Say there were 200 deaths ... an accident in a chemical factory would be more horrible judging by the number of victims. It was about as deadly as a plane crash -- Concorde, say," Rumyantsev said, referring to a supersonic jet which crashed in Paris nearly three years ago.
"When Greenpeace or other ecologists talk about a million victims, I am prepared to agree that a million people were scared. That was the main medical result of the disaster."