The Mayak nuclear accident had a magnitude of level 6 on the INES scale. Currently, it is the third-worst nuclear disaster in history. It ranks behind the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disasters (both level 7 according to the international scale of nuclear accidents). The disaster was named Kyshtym for being the closest town.
The Kyshtym disaster is not very famous because the Soviet Government tried for 30 years to hide the nuclear leaks that have been taking place. Furthermore, at that time the USSR was on the verge of the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution and five days after the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite in history.
Vague reports of a catastrophic accident began appearing in the western press in April 1958. The first information about the Mayak disaster will not be revealed until 1976 by the Russian biologist Zhores Medvedev, who had emigrated to England. Vague reports of a "catastrophic accident" causing "radioactive fallout over the Soviet and many neighboring states" began appearing in the western press between 13 and 14 April 1958
What Is Mayak Today?
Mayak is one of the largest and most diverse nuclear facilities in Russia. It is supervised by the Federal Nuclear Energy Agency (MinAtom). Before 1990 it was known as Chelyabinsk-40 and from 1990 to 1992 as Chelyabinsk-65.
The complex is located between the closed city of Ozyorsk, the city of Chelyabinsk, and the city of Kyshtym. The total area covers 200 km2 around Lake Kyzyl Tash in the upper reaches of the Tsja River.
The commercial area is 90 km2 and is located southeast of the lake. In addition to a nuclear test center with seven nuclear reactors, two of which are active, there is also a well-known radioactive waste reprocessing plant with a storage facility.
For What Purposes Was the Mayak Nuclear Plant Built?
The construction and the dropping of the atomic bomb in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were decisive for the end of World War II. For this reason, the Russians started the nuclear race to be able to manufacture nuclear weapons during the cold war.
Lavrentiy Beria directed the construction of the Mayak Plutonium plant in the Southern Urals.
The central axis of this project was the future Mayak plant, which was to be used to produce plutonium. The plant was built very quickly and in absolute secrecy during the period 1945 - 1948. The city and the complex were called Chelyabinsk-40 and later Chelyabinsk-65. In 1994 it was renamed Ozersk.
The Soviet nuclear industry got the first nuclear reactor ready in December 1948.
What Were the Most Important Leaks from the Mayak Nuclear Plant?
This nuclear disaster in the Urals had numerous high level of radiation leaks. The most important ones are:
A deliberate spill of radioactive materials into the Techa River.
A windstorm that scattered radioactive materials that came from sediments from Lake Karachay in 1967.
The fission products released created a contaminated region of 15,000–20,000 square kilometers called the East Urals Radioactive trace.
Radioactive Spill on the Techa River
During the early years, the consequences of radioactivity on people and the environment were not well known. That is why the security measures of the plant were not taken into account, which constantly emitted radioactive particles.
The clearest example of this is the fact that, especially between 1948 and 1956, water contaminated with radioactive materials was dumped in the lakes around the Mayak nuclear power plant and also directly into the Tech River, which later joins the Obi river.
The population of Ozersk was not informed, so they continued to use the water for domestic use. This caused serious health problems for the people, and there was talk of the "river disease". Up to 124,000 people are believed to have received significant doses of radiation.
Kyshtym Nuclear Waste Storage Building Explosion
This nuclear disaster took place on September 29, 1957. It receives level 6 according to the INES scale. It all started because the cooling system of a tank containing radioactive waste broke down. This caused a great warming, which led to a series of reactions that caused a chemical (and not nuclear) explosion.
The great force of this explosion broke the concrete barrier and up to half of the material contained in the tank was dispersed to the environment.
The consequences of the accident were very important, although no worker was killed directly by the explosion.