60 years ago in Russia there was a Kyshtym accident, in terms of the extent of radiation contamination, second only to the Chernobyl explosion and the tragedy at Fukushima-1.
September 29, 1957 at 16:00 on the territory of the chemical factory “Mayak”, which was in the closed city of Chelyabinsk-40 (now Ozersk), there was the first radiation accident in the USSR – a radioactive waste storage tank exploded. The catastrophe was called the Kyshtym accident – after the name of the town of Kyshtym, closest to Chelyabinsk-40.
The explosion occurred in a tank with a volume of 300 m³ due to the failure of the cooling system. The container contained a total of about 80 m³ of highly radioactive nuclear waste. At the time of construction in the 1950s, the strength of the structure was not in doubt. She was in a foundation pit, in a concrete shirt about a meter in thickness.
The lid of the container weighed 560 tons, on top of it was laid a two-meter layer of earth. However, even this could not contain the explosion.
According to another, unofficial version, the catastrophe occurred because of the error of the mill’s employees who mistakenly added a solution of plutonium oxalate to the evaporator tank with a hot solution of plutonium nitrate. When oxidizing oxalate with nitrate, a large amount of energy was released, which led to overheating and explosion of the container.
During the explosion, about 20 million Ki of radioactive substances entered the atmosphere, some of which rose to a height of up to two kilometers and formed an aerosol cloud.
During the next 11-12 hours, radioactive fallout fell on the territory of 300-350 km to the north-east of the site of the explosion.
In the zone of radiation pollution 23 thousand km² with a population of 270 thousand people in 217 settlements of the Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk and Tyumen regions fell. During the elimination of the consequences of the accident, it was necessary to resettle 23 villages with a population of 10-12 thousand people, all buildings, property and livestock were destroyed.
Hundreds of thousands of servicemen and civilians became liquidators.
Only in the first ten days the account of those who died from radiation went to hundreds, in total 250,000 liquidators suffered to some extent during the work.
According to the international scale of nuclear tests, the accident was estimated at six points. For comparison, the seventh level, the maximum, was assigned to the accidents at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.
To avoid radiation spillage, the government decided to establish a sanitary protection zone in which economic activities were prohibited. In 1968, the East-Ural State Reserve was established on this territory.
His visit is prohibited – the level of radioactivity is still too dangerous for a person.
October 6, 1957 in the newspaper “Chelyabinsk Worker” appeared devoted to him a note in which, however, the accident was not said a word:
“Last Sunday evening … many Chelyabinsk people watched the special glow of the starry sky. This luminescence, which was quite rare in our latitudes, had all the signs of auroras. The intense red, at times turning into a faint pink and light blue glow, first covered a significant part of the south-west and northeast surface of the sky. About 11 o’clock it could be seen in the north-west direction … Against the background of the sky appeared relatively large painted areas and at times quiet bands, which in the last stage of radiance had a meridional direction. The study of the nature of the polar auroras, begun by Lomonosov, continues to this day. In modern science the main idea of Lomonosov found confirmation that aurorae appear in the upper layers of the atmosphere as a result of electric discharges … Polar lights … can be observed further in the latitudes of the Southern Urals. ”
The Kyshtym accident for a long time was a state secret. For the first time, it was said openly about the films of director and biologist Elena Sakanyan, shot at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, dedicated to the fate of the Soviet biologist and geneticist Nikolai Timofeev-Resovsky.
The films were shown on television only after Sakanyan directly applied for a show to Boris Yeltsin.
But the information in the foreign press was leaked in April 1958. For the first time an accident was reported by one of the Copenhagen newspapers. Later, the data on the accident appeared in the report of the National Laboratory of the United States, biologist Zhores Medvedev devoted to the incident a book titled “Nuclear Catastrophe in the Urals”, having published it in the United States, an analysis of the accident and its causes was conducted by a group of American scientists from the Oak Ridge Nuclear Center.
“About the explosion on Mayak for a long time, the public knew practically nothing. Later, it is unclear why, the accident was replicated in the media as “Kyshtym accident.”
In Kyshtym, an obelisk was even recently installed on this occasion, although this city has nothing to do with this event.
And the East Urals radioactive trail, which was formed after 1957, did not touch Kyshtym and its inhabitants, “one of its liquidators told in an interview in 2009.
A total of more than 30 incidents were registered at Mayak, accompanied by radioactive releases and human casualties.