The Chernobyl accident was at one time widely discussed in the press. While about the Kyshtym disaster, the consequences of which are comparable to a full-scale nuclear explosion, relatively few have heard. The tragedy took place in September 1957. It was officially recognized by the authorities only 30 years later – in 1989.
What is the purpose of the Mayak chemical plant
In 1945, the USSR authorities decided to create a plant number 817 for the production of nuclear weapons. The secret enterprise “Mayak” was built in the city of Chelyabinsk-40, which was not indicated on the maps. Currently, the settlement is called Ozersk.
In the summer of 1948, the nuclear reactor reached the required power. Six months later, a plutonium processing line was launched. A block for creating a nuclear charge also began work. This process was accompanied by the generation of a significant amount of radioactive waste, which included extremely hazardous elements.
Initially, the contaminated remains were poured into the Techa River, near which the plant was built. But after a sharp increase in the death rate in settlements located on its banks, the management of the plant reconsidered its decision. Waste containing highly active components was sent to the Karachay reservoir, which has no effluent. Radioactive liquids with medium and low activity continued to be poured into the Techa.
In the 1950s, cylindrical containers made of stainless steel began to be used to store the most highly radioactive waste. Additionally, they were “dressed” in concrete shirts. Mayak employees called them “banks”. The diameter of the containers was 20 meters, the volume was 300 cubic meters. Banks were placed in special structures dug into the ground.
Why, how and when there was an explosion at the Mayak chemical plant
The disaster happened on September 29, 1957. Based on the severity of the consequences, it is in third place after the Chernobyl tragedy and the accident at Fukushima-1. The explosion took place in bank No. 14. In the tank, there were plutonium compounds in liquid form.
According to the authorities, the detonation was provoked by a malfunction in the tank's cooling system. The fission of nuclear materials is accompanied by the generation of heat. When the critical temperature is reached, an explosion occurs. Therefore, the cylinders were equipped with a cooling system. The water circulating through the pipes kept the inside of the can at a safe temperature.
In 1956, leakage of tank tubes was discovered. During the repair, her cooling system was turned off. It was not possible to quickly eliminate the malfunction. As a result, explosives accumulated on the surface of the can. On September 29, 1957, an accidental spark provoked their detonation. According to an alternative version, the explosion was caused by the ingress of plutonium oxalate into the vaporizer. The substance reacted with plutonium nitrate, which was stored in a container. As a result, the bank overheated and exploded.
A powerful detonation completely destroyed the cylinder – its 160-ton cover was thrown 25 meters. The contents of the jar with a total activity of at least 20 million curies were released into the atmosphere. The wind carried the radioactive cloud to the southeast from the accident site. After 5 hours, it was first noticed by people who mistook it for the northern lights. In the process of fission of radioactive waste, the cloud shimmered in blue, orange and pink, as a result of which a similarity arose with this natural phenomenon.
The name “Kyshtym tragedy” is due to the closed nature of Chelyabinsk-40. He was not marked on the maps, so they could not associate the accident with him. The name was given, based on the nearest settlement to the scene, which turned out to be Kyshtym.
How was the liquidation of the Kyshtym accident
In the early days, servicemen and prisoners who were held in a nearby colony were involved in the elimination of the consequences of a man-made tragedy. Civilians joined them a little later. The total number of liquidators reached several thousand people.
On October 2, a commission arrived at the scene, which included scientists working in the nuclear industry. On October 6, the evacuation of the population from the contaminated territories began. The resettlement affected 23 villages, in which 12 thousand people lived. Their real estate, along with all their belongings, were burned, their cattle were slaughtered, and the fields were plowed. Thus, the authorities intended to prevent the spread of radiation, as well as prevent cases of people returning for abandoned valuables.
Two years later, a sanitary zone was organized in the territory affected by the accident, where economic activities were not allowed. After 9 years, the East Ural Reserve was created in its place. Until now, the radioactive background on its territory has been increased, so you can get into it only with a special pass. The “atomic” reserve is visited mainly by scientists who study how radiation affects nature.
What are the consequences of the Kyshtym nuclear disaster
Most of the radioactive substances (90%) settled on the territory of Chelyabinsk-40. The remaining 10% were blown by the wind 300 km from the accident site. Radioactive substances settled in 217 settlements of the Tyumen, Chelyabinsk and Sverdlovsk regions.
The most affected by the radiation were the liquidators who worked directly on the Mayak territory, whom the authorities did not warn about the scale of the disaster. Among them, more than 100 people died in the first 10 days after the incident.
More than 90 thousand people who lived in the vicinity of Ozersk received significant doses of radiation. The result was the emergence of various diseases caused by radiation. Residents of neighboring regions were less affected by the disaster. But all the same, the total number of the population affected by the Kyshtym tragedy reached 250 thousand people.
The chemical plant “Mayak” continues to work to this day. Since 1957, more than 30 incidents have occurred at the enterprise, accompanied by the release of radioactive waste.