Case Number:        392
     Identifier:              URAL
     Description:        Ural Mountains Nuclear Waste

I.   Identification

1.  The Issue.

     Near the southern Ural Mountains, in the Russian province of
Chelyabinsk, there is a Soviet nuclear facility called the Mayak
Chemical Combine.  From 1948 until 1990 when the last of five
reactors was shut down, the Combine contaminated the region to such
an extent that it is now known as the most polluted area on Earth. 
The region received this title due to the Combine's continuous
disregard for environmental and public safety.  However, there are
three specific incidents that stand out: intentional dumping of
radioactive waste into the Techa River; an explosion at a
radioactive waste storage facility in 1957; and a 1967 wind storm
that deposited irradiated sediments from Lake Karachay onto the
surrounding province.

2.  Description

                        The Mayak Dilemma

If you multiply Chernobyl a hundred times, you have a 
picture of what happened in Chelyabinsk.  Please do not     compare
Chelyabinsk with Chernobyl because it is a much   different, and
far worse problem...the disaster at     Chelyabinsk has been going
on far longer and has involved a   far larger amount of radiation
than Chernobyl. (Hertsgaard, 1992, 3)
     One thousand miles to the east of Moscow, in the Chelyabinsk
province of Russia and situated in the southern portion of the Ural
Mountains is a 100 kilometer2 facility known as the Mayak Chemical
Combine (MCC.)  It is here that the Soviet nuclear program was
born.  Also known as Chelyabinsk-40, MCC produced the first lot of
weapons grade plutonium for the Soviet Union.    The facility is
also a legacy of the Soviet nuclear program.  Through intentional
dumping of nuclear waste into the Techa River and Lake Karachay, an
explosion at a nuclear waste storage tank in 1957, and the spread
of irradiated sediments from Lake Karachay in 1967, Mayak has come
to be known as the most polluted place on Earth.
     From June 1948, when the first Soviet nuclear reactor went
online, until 1990, when the last of Mayakūs five reactors were
shutdown, approximately 26,700 km2 of land was irradiated.  The
total contamination is believed to be 185 petabecquerel (pBq) (5
megacuries (MCi)), with approximately 55,000 PBq (150 MCi) being
released to the environment.  This is more radiation then was
released by the Chernobyl reactor explosion in 1986.  (Hertsgaard
1992, 2)  In fact, the amount of radioactive waste stored at and
released by Mayak is enough to poison every square foot of the
former Soviet Union.  (Dahlburg 1992a, A1.)

                 Dumping of Radioactive Material

     In 1948 the Soviet Union was trying to catch up to the United
States in the newly born nuclear era.  It already lagged behind 3
years in the development of nuclear weapons so it needed to conduct
a sustainable nuclear chain reaction as soon as possible.  The
country did not have time to gain experience in the nuclear field,
it had to be prepared to meet the enemy on the battlefield with
this new means of warfare.  As such, there was an overwhelming
desire for secrecy and a single minded pursuit of government goals,
the production of a nuclear weapon regardless of safety factors. 
     In the rush for nuclear development, overly simplified waste
handling techniques were developed.  The earliest Mayak reactors
had open cooling systems.  Water from the nearby Techa River would
be pumped through the reactor as a coolant and the subsequent
irradiated water would then be sent back into the river.  Between
1948 and 1951 contaminated waste from Mayak was dumped directly
into the Techa.  The river itself is a vast expanse, extending
through the Ob river into the Arctic Ocean.  Between 1949 and 1956,
2.6 billion feet3 of liquid waste was dumped into the Techa with a
total activity of over 2.75 million curies (Ci) of radiation. 
(Dahlburg 1992b, A1)   The radiation in the Techa is estimated to
equal the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb or nearly 20
times that released at Chernobyl in 1986.  (Hertsgaard 1992, 1) 
     The radiation in the river was so high that people received
doses of 350 rems per year.  In comparison, a nuclear power plant
employee in the West can receive no more than 5 rems per year.  In
fact, a gamma ray detector placed on the banks of the Techa in 1992
was recorded at 1700 micro-roentengens, 100 times the normal level. 
 It is believed that the river now contains 2.5 times the number of
long life isotopes as were released by the Chernobyl reactor.  One
hundred twenty four thousand people were exposed to high level
radiation through the river.  Unfortunately, exact numbers of
people affected by the radiation cannot be determined due to
inadequate medical records and the secrecy of the Soviet nuclear
program.  (Dahlburg 1992b, A1)
     The Soviets stopped dumping waste in the river in 1951 when
radiation was detected in the Arctic waters of northern Russia. 
The government also restricted drinking of and fishing in the
river.  However, because local residents were not told why the new
restrictions were put in place, they continued using the river.  In
addition, evacuations were ordered, but on a very small scale, and
in some instances, never took place.  (Bohmer 1995, 9)
     After dumping in the Techa ended, MCC chose to dispose of its
liquid waste in Lake Karachay.  The lake was situated on the MCC
grounds and was seen as a suitable alternative to Techa because it
was an enclosed body of water.  Dumping would continue here until
permanent storage facilities could be built.  High level waste was
deposited in the lake until 1953; however, medium and low level
waste was dumped there for more than three decades.  (Bohmer 1995,
     The Soviets also built a series of dams along the Techa in
order to slow the downstream flow of radiation.   This allowed the
radioactive material to deposit itself into the sediments along the
river banks preventing their release into the Ob and possibly the
Arctic Ocean.  Unfortunately this lead to a number of adverse
     One damn was built in the middle of the village Muslyomovo. 
The reservoir opened up land previously underwater.  Since the
residents were not told why the dams were built, nor why the water
ban was in place, this newly found yet contaminated soil was used
for farmland and grazing pasture.  Soil samples taken in the 1990s
revealed contamination in the range of 400,000 becequerel (Bq) of
Cesium 137 per kilogram of soil and 120,000 Bq of Strontium 90 per
kilogram of soil.   Contamination in the upper river is now 740
gigabecequerel (GBq)/kg of Strontium 90 and 5220 Gbq/kg2 of Cesium
137. (Bohmer 1995, 10)

                      1957 Kystym Explosion

     After radiation was detected in the Arctic waters off Russia
in 1951, a storage facility was planned for the MCC grounds.  By
1953 it was ready for use.  The facility consisted of a series of
underground tanks.  The tanks were made of steel with inner walls
of concrete.  Each of these tanks held 20 smaller tanks 8 meters
below the ground.  Waste material was stored here for a year in
order to cool and reduce the level of radioactivity.  The material
was than retreated and the plutonium and uranium extracted.  The
resulting low and medium level waste material is believed to have
been dumped into Lake Karachay.  (Cochran 1995, 5)
     In 1957 the cooling system in one of the tanks failed.  The
cooling fluid that remained in the system evaporated, and the
temperature in one of the tanks started to rise.  By 4:20 local
time on 29 September the temperature had risen to 350 degrees
Celsius.  The resulting explosion had a force of 75 tons of TNT. 
The 2.5 meter thick concrete lid was thrown 30 meters away.  20
Million Ci of radiation was released into the atmosphere.  Most of
it came back down within the vicinity of the complex.  However, 2
million Ci formed into a radioactive cloud 5 miles wide which
traveled approximately 600 miles through the Chelyabinsk Province. 
The radiation came down on an area approximately 23,000 km2 with
inhabitants numbering over 270,000.  (Hertsgarrd 1992, 10)
     For the next two years hospitals in the region were filled to
capacity.  Due to inadequate medical records, the number of people
that died resulting from the explosion cannot be determined.  Only
10,000 people of the quarter million population was evacuated and
the evacuations were delayed in some cases up to 18 months.  
     Agricultural production was severely affected, with 100,000
hectares (100 hectares=1km2) laid fallow.  Food supplies were thus
contaminated, especially meat and dairy products.  Those villages
that were evacuated were burned and the top layer of soil was
scraped away.  The explosion at the Mayak facility rated 6 out of
a maximum 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale as determined
by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  In comparison, the
Chernobyl explosion rated 7.  (Bohmer 1995, 14)

 1967 Evaporation of Lake Karachay

     Mayak officials learned in the early 1950s that the Techa
River was polluted.  At one point there was a 40 mile layer of
dark foam over one section of the river (at this time, the fish
in the lake went blind.)  Not until radiation was detected in the
Arctic waters of northern Russia did the government force
changes.  In 1951, MCC decided to build a storage facility for
radioactive waste.  While the facility was being built, waste
would be dumped into Lake Karachay.
     It is unclear exactly how much radiation was released into
the lake.  Estimates made by the Natural Resources Defense
Council during a trip to the U.S.S.R. in 1989 state that there is
approximately 120 million Ci of radiation present in the lake. 
In fact, it holds more than 100 times the amount of Strontium 90
and Cesium137 than was released at Chernobyl.  When the storage
facility was taken into use at Mayak, low and medium level waste
continued to be dumped into the lake.  (Hertsgaard 1992, 13)
     In 1967, the third major nuclear incident occurred at Mayak. 
The previous two years in the region were unusually dry.  The
spring of 1967 saw the surrounding low level areas of the lake
evaporate revealing radioactive sediments.  This region of the
southern Ural's is known for extreme wind storms.  Facts are not
certain, but at some point either a tornado or violent wind storm
swept through the region and the MCC facility.  The winds picked
up the previously submerged radiation and spread it across an
area roughly the size of Maryland.  Recently revealed, according
to a Russian official, is that no less than 400,000 people were
affected by what is believed to be almost 5 million Ci of
radiation, the same amount released by the Hiroshima nuclear
explosion.  (Hertsgaard 1992, 14)
     This wind storm had many disastrous affects on the region.  
One problem was that many of the people affected by this fallout
were those who were irradiated by the 1957 explosion.  Second,
the fallout worsened the already unhealthy food-chain.  Finally,
though 400,000 people were affected, only 180,000 were evacuated. 
(Bohmer 1995, 14)  As with earlier incidents, the evacuations
were delayed and only the most severely affected were moved.
     The Chelyabinsk province in Russia is one of the most
polluted places on the planet.  The three incidents described
here are the most serious, but not the only to have occurred. 
The radiation releases have affected thousands if not millions of
people.  Unfortunately, due to the Soviet cult of nuclear
secrecy, none received adequate medical treatment.  Though no
accidents on the scale of those described have occurred in many
years (or at least none known of in the west,) Mayak still poses
a danger to the world.  Mayak houses over 200,000 Ci of
radioactive waste in a series of reservoirs which are in danger
of overflowing.  In addition, the radiation in Lake Karachay has
begun seeping into the local underground water tables.  The
entire regions waterways eventually lead to the Ob river which
empties into the Arctic Ocean.  (Monastersky 1993, 6)
     The implications of the disastrous environmental state of
the Chelyabinsk region in Russia are many, and not restricted to
national boundaries.  The Soviet/Russian desire for secrecy meant
that the rest of the world would not learn of the incidents at
Mayak until the late 1980s.(Interestingly enough, there is
evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency knew of the 1957
explosion but did not divulge its knowledge so as to prevent
instilling fear in the Western nuclear program.)  (Hertsgaard
1992, 12) 
     The Russian Governments cult of nuclear secrecy permeated
not only the nuclear industry, but the health care industry as
well.  The very doctors that were to have treated the victims
were forced by the state to explain their conditions only as
"blood" problems, or "vegetative syndromes."  With radiation
poisoning, however, the problems can and are passed from
generation to generation.  Effects are still being felt, and will
continue to do so for some time.
     What this means for the rest of the world is twofold. 
First, Russia obviously has more nuclear environmental problems
than it is willing to admit.  Until these problems are addressed,
the rest of the world will suffer as well.  The nations of the
West are striving to help Russia and other former socialist
nations create free market economies.  Until these nations deal
with the nuclear legacy, more and more money will have to be
spent on clean up than on the economy.  Thus, the vast markets
that western companies see in the former Warsaw Pact will develop
too slowly, if at all.  The problems in Russia are too numerous
and too strong to not affect its economy or government.  As such,
this serves as a glaring example of the importance the
environment has on the rest of society.

3.  Related Cases

Czech N-Plant [MOCHO] Case
Russia N-Sub [RUSSNUKE] Case
Russia Nuclear Exports
TEMELIN N-Plant Case
ESTONIA Nuclear Case
Chernobyl Case
Siberia Nuclear Pollution [SIBNUKE]

4. Keyword Clusters

(1) Nuclear Waste
(2) Explosion
(3) Pollution

5.  Draft Author: Michael Goulet, December 1996

II.  Legal Cluster

6.  Discourse and Status: DISAGREE and ALLEG

     There have been no direct charges made against Russia
concerning the incidents that occurred at Mayak from foreign
nations.  There is, however, growing coverage of the Soviet
nuclear legacy.  

7.  Forum and Scope Russia and MULTIlateral

     The incidents at Mayak have not been identified as having
affected other nations.  However radiation was detected in the
Arctic waters in the 1950s and is assumed to have come from the
Techa River through the Ob River.  Also, the water that has
drained into the water tables around lake Karachy could again
make its way to the Ob and perhaps Arctic waters.   Finally,
there has been some speculative research that shows radioactive
runoff from the Ob could form into ice flows that move throughout
the Arctic region, even extending to Alaska.  (Lab Notes No.
45,1994, 1)

8.  Decision Breadth 1 (Russia)

     At the moment, the only nation to have been affected by
Mayak, appears to be Russia.  The surrounding region is one of
the most polluted areas in the world.  The fact that it is
polluted with radioactive material and that irradiated water can
find its way to international oceanūs means that many more
nations may be affected.   

9.  Legal Standing Treaty

     Russia is the signatory of many international treaties
concerning the environment.  The London Dumping Convention of
1972, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) all
relate to the problems at Mayak.  Though the dumping occurred in
domestic waters, there is the possible irradiation of
international waters.  In addition, the Soviet Union/Russia did
not inform the rest of the world to the problems of Mayak.  As
such, the nation went against its agreements with the I.A.E.A. to
notify it in case of emergency.
     In addition, Russia signed the International Convention on
Nuclear Safety in 1994, and signed agreements of safety at the
Group of 7 nuclear Summit in Moscow in 1996.  These agreements,
while lacking specific police action, agree to help prevent the
spread of nuclear contamination and pollution.  They also look
for greater transparency into the actions of nuclear powers. 
(Sachs 1993, 1) Finally, the new Russian Constitution, signed
into law in 1993, states that the government is required to make
known any environmental problems that may affect the citizenry. 
Thus, while Russia has become more open about its nuclear
problems the movement to publicly accessible information is a
slow process.

III. Geographic Filters

10. Geography 

Continental Domain: Europe
Geographic Site: Eastern Europe
Geographic Impact: Russia

11. Sub-National Factors: NO

12.  Type of Habitat TEMPerate

IV.  Trade Filters

13.  Type of Measure: Regulatory Ban

14.  Direct vs. Indirect Impact: INDirect

     Due to the vast expanse of the Russian nation, the
irradiated region of Chelyabinsk has not directly impacted other
nations.  In addition, this region of Russia was mainly involved
with the secret Soviet nuclear program.  As such, it had little
involvement in international trade.  
     One likely possibility for opening trade is the involvement
of foreign companies in cleaning up the Russian environment.  In
order to meet western environmental standards Russia will likely
enter joint ventures with western companies involved in various
aspects of nuclear industry.   The joint ventures could be in
many areas ranging from nuclear storage facility construction and
reactor design to water purification and pharmaceutical
production.  In addition, there has been talk of Russia taking in
foreign nuclear waste to process at Mayak, but this has ran into
local opposition (another sign of a more open Russian nation.)

15.  Relation to Measure of Impact: 

a.  Directly Related to Product: No
b.  Indirectly Related to Product: YES, Many
c.  Not Related to Product: No
d.  Related to Process: YES, Radiation

     Due to the extent of contamination throughout the nation, 
nuclear pollution will likely affect many aspects of the economy. 
These effects could range from person hours lost from sickness to
higher input costs caused by irradiated natural resources.  In
other words, radioactivity will indirectly affect the process of
economic production. 

16.  Trade Product Identification: Regulatory Standard

17.  Economic Data

The costs of cleaning up the Soviet Union are enormous.  Exact
figures can only be speculated.  However, a comparison to the
United states nuclear cleanup points to some interesting facts. 
The U.S. Nuclear industry produced less radioactive waste then
the Soviet Union for a variety of technical efficiency reasons. 
(Shapiro 1994, A53) The cost of cleaning up American nuclear
waste ranges from $200-600 billion, with some experts citing
figures upwards of $1 trillion.  (Vartabedian 1994, A1)

18.  Degree of Competitive Impact: LOW

     It is all but certain that Russian nuclear pollution will
have an affect on the rest of the world.  The fact is, the
problems of Mayak occurred in the central part of Russia, away
from the outside world and in an industry not involved in
international trade.  However, now that Russia is a developing
market economy, the future of trade with this nation will be
impacted by its nuclear legacy, especially that of Mayak.  Also,
if the radiation in the water tables in Chelyabinsk, or in the
Techa/Ob Rivers do in fact effect the Arctic Oceans, then there
will be a direct impact on the international fishing industry. 

19.  Industry Sector: Many

20.  Exporters and Importers: Russia and Many

V.   Environmental Clusters

21.  Environmental Problem Type: BIODIV

22.  Species Information: MANY

     The Chelyabinsk region was highly polluted by the Mayak
Chemical Combine.  While MCC was the main industry of the region,
there was some farm land as well.  As such, there was a fair
amount of potential for irradiated livestock and vegetation and
other areas of the food chain.  In a report prepared by the UN
Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation, much of the
plant and animal life was effected by the radiation, but no one
species is known to have become extinct.   Of the 20 types of
herbaceous plants in the southern Ural, no single species was
more effected than others.  However, those plants with dormant
buds at or near the surface of the ground were more affected than
those with buds well below or high above the surface.  Cereals
and woody plants, especially pine trees, suffered severely.  In
addition, many species of rodents have been adversely affected. 
Finally, similarities with humans can again be seen in the
generational affects of radiation on plant and animal life. 
(Ratnasabapathy 1995, 1)

23.  Impact and Effect:  HIGH and STRUCTURAL

     The effect of not only the three specific incidents
discussed here, but the operations of MCC in general, has been
enough to cause this region to become known as the most polluted
area on Earth.  In fact, a person living in the Chelyabinsk
region is twice as likely to get leukemia as any other region in
Russia.  (Hertsgaard 1992, 9)    In addition, due to the fact
that radiation tends to affect many generations of plant, animal
and human life, the whole life system in the region has thus been

24.  Urgency and Lifetime: HIGH and Thousands of Years

     The Chelyabinsk region will feel the effects of the MCC for
decades, if not longer.  Some may feel that some life forms will,
and already begun to adapt to the radiation.  (Ratnasabapathy
1995, 1)  However, due to the life time of radioactive material,
its ill effects will be felt for generations especially when one
considers that the Plutonium still stored at Mayak has a half
life of 20,000 years.

25.  Substitutes: NAPP

VI.  Other Factors

26.  Culture: YES

     In the 1940s and 1950s, the Soviet people lived in fear for
their lives...not from radiation, but from the communist party. 
The doctors who treated the many patients from each of the three
major incidents at Mayak knew they were suffering from the
effects of acute radiation poisoning.  However, the government
forced them to lie to the patients.  The Central Committee went
so far as to prevent the construction of larger medical
facilities to be built in the region.  It was feared that this
would lead to speculation of radiological problems.  (Hertsgaard
1992, 10) 
     The Russian Government did not want to propagate an image of
a faltering nuclear program to its citizens, or to the rest of
the world.  Also, the Soviet ideology faulted capitalism as
hedonistic and bent on world domination to gain market access for
its goods.  Communism, as it developed in Russia, was
hypocritical in this sense.  It felt that nature was to be shaped
according to the needs of people.  It gave little interest in
environmental impact of its actions, or for the safety of its
people, as long as the governmentūs objectives were met.

27.  Human Rights: YES

     Soviet citizens were not told that radiations was the source
of their health problems.  They were told not to use the water of
the Techa River, but given no reason why.  Accurate amounts of
the people affected by radiation from Mayak, let alone the number
of deaths, will never be known.  What is known, though, is that
much of the radiation released into the environment was
intentional, or at least a preventable accident.  The suffering
endured by these people could have been prevented,  however, the
Soviet desire for secrecy took precedence over public safety.

28.  Trans-Boundary Issues: NO