In Soviet Russia, Lake Contaminates You

Discussion in 'OFF-Topic / Misc.' started by syscom3, Dec 13, 2008.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    This Soviet cold war era nuclear disaster rivals the Chernobyl incident.

    Damn Interesting In Soviet Russia, Lake Contaminates You

    In late 1945, along the banks of the Techa River in the Soviet Union, a dozen labor camps sent 70,000 inmates to begin construction of a secret city. Mere months earlier the United States' Little Boy and Fat Man bombs had flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leaving Soviet leaders salivating over the massive power of the atom. In a rush to close the gap in weapons technology, the USSR commissioned a sprawling plutonium-production complex in the southern Ural mountains. The clandestine military-industrial community was to be operated by Russia's Mayak Chemical Combine, and it would come to be known as Chelyabinsk-40.

    Within a few years the newfangled nuclear reactors were pumping out plutonium to fuel the Soviet Union's first atomic weapons. Chelyabinsk-40 was absent from all official maps, and it would be over forty years before the Soviet government would even acknowledge its existence. Nevertheless, the small city became an insidious influence in the Soviet Union, ultimately creating a corona of nuclear contamination dwarfing the devastation of the Chernobyl disaster.

    By June 1948, after 31 months of brisk construction, the first of the Chelyabinsk-40 "breeder" reactors was brought online. Soon bricks of common uranium-238 were being bombarded with neutrons, resulting in loaves of pipin'-hot weapons-grade plutonium. In their haste to begin production, Soviet engineers lacked the time to establish proper waste-handling procedures, so most of the byproducts were dealt with by diluting them in water and squirting the effluent into the Techa River. The watered-down waste was a cocktail of "hot" elements, including long-lived fission products such as Strontium-90 and Cesium-137–each with a half-life of approximately thirty years.

    In 1951, after about three years of operations at Chelyabinsk-40, Soviet scientists conducted a survey of the Techa River to determine whether radioactive contamination was becoming a problem. In the village of Metlino, just over four miles downriver from the plutonium plant, investigators and Geiger counters clicked nervously along the river bank. Rather than the typical "background" gamma radiation of about 0.21 Röntgens per year, the edge of the Techa River was emanating 5 Röntgens per hour. The village of MetlinoThe village of Metlino on the Techa RiverSuch elevated levels were rather distressing since that the river was the primary source of water for the 1,200 residents there. Subsequent measurements found extensive contamination in 38 other villages along the Techa, seriously jeopardizing the health of about 28,000 people. In addition, almost 100,000 other residents were being exposed to elevated-but-not-quite-as-deadly doses of gamma radiation, both from the river itself and from the floodplain where crops and livestock were raised.

    In an effort to avoid serious radiological health effects among the populace, the Soviet government relocated about 7,500 villagers from the most heavily contaminated areas, fenced off the floodplain, and dug wells to provide an alternate water source for the remaining villages. Engineers were brought in to erect earthen dams along the Techa River to prevent radioactive sediments from migrating further downstream. The Soviet scientists at Chelyabinsk-40 also revised their waste disposal strategy, halting the practice of dumping effluent directly into the river. Instead, they constructed a set of "intermediate storage tanks" where waste water could spend some time bleeding off radioactivity. After lingering in these vats for a few months, the diluted dregs were periodically piped to the new long-term storage location: a ten-foot-deep, 110 acre lake called Karachay. For a while these measures spared the Techa River residents from further increases in exposure, but the Mayak Chemical Combine had only begun to demonstrate its flair for misfortune.

    [Click the link to read the rest of the story]
     
  2. 109ROAMING

    109ROAMING Active Member

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  3. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor
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    Well they weren't renowned for their safety records anyway but this one probably does take the biscuit for the whole lot. :shock:
     
  4. mudpuppy

    mudpuppy Member

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    That is just amazing! Its hard to imagine the scope of this tragedy.
     
  5. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    Truly sad that the one village in the article has an average lifespan of 45 years. Makes me wonder what else we don't know about.
     
  6. Vassili Zaitzev

    Vassili Zaitzev Well-Known Member

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