Atom Town Krasnoyarsk-26
October 9, 2014 5:02 AM   Subscribe

This town in Russia is called Zheleznogorsk, read the initial post. Their flag and coat of arms is a bear splitting the atom. That is all.

But that certainly wasn't all: Um, so. My grandfather actually built this town, and helped run it for many years..

Zheleznogorsk, known then by the PO box number Krasnoyarsk-26, was a Soviet closed city, built during the Cold War to produce weapons-grade plutonium in a reactor complex carved out of a granite mountain. With the fall of the USSR, along with other secret cities, Zheleznogorsk was forced to open up somewhat. Up to 100,000 people lived there in its heyday; in 2010, when the last reactor was shut down, that figure was still 85,000. The city is now the site of a commercial nuclear-waste repository, despite some environmental concerns beforehand.

You can view Zheleznogorsk on Google Maps, visit its official website (Russian-language only), or take a virtual tour on this photo-rich unoffical site: Zheleznogorsk, Last Paradise on the Earth. Or, if you have $125 to spare, indulge in the 1990 hardcover book by the town fathers, Atom Town Krasnoyarsk-26.

Bonus links:

Want more Russian flags? This blog has you covered.

Want more nuclear design? Check out the story behind the IAEA's atomic logo.
posted by daisyk (21 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
The space had been excavated by tens of thousands of gulag slave laborers, who removed more rock from inside the mountain than was used to build the Great Pyramids.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:25 AM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think the bear in Kemerovo oblast is gearing up to fight the Sun. That is how badass Kemerovo oblast is. Don't laugh; the Sun could burn the whole Earth without half trying, and that bear does not even worry. Fear that bear.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:08 AM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

If there isn't an army going into battle carrying that flag on the next season of Game of Thrones we've all been cheated.
posted by sobarel at 6:14 AM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

"You think you're bright, you so-called Sun? This lantern is brighter than you are!"
posted by daisyk at 6:32 AM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Atom Heart Father...

The unofficial site linked above is well worth a browse. The consequences of radiation are particularly notable: On the radioactively contaminated grounds of the Eastern Urals radioactive track (EURT) the mushrooms grow large and beautiful.... Beware! Radioactive waste of the digestive activities of cows... Karachay Lake, where MAYAK still dumps nuclear waste today, is one of the most polluted places on the planet. According to information from environmental organisations, the total radioactivity of all the substances released into the lake is equivalent to 8 times the emissions released in the wake of the Chernobyl accident.
posted by Devonian at 7:14 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

That was great! Thank you for sharing! (It's always surprising to learn anything from Tumblr other than things like they are making Sailor Moon sanitary napkins.)
posted by maryr at 7:20 AM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you're interested in former Soviet secret cities, a former coworker of mine did a bunch of reporting from one of them last year, looking at a test site in Kazakhstan where potentially weapons-usable plutonium had been left behind when the Soviets pulled out.

Here's the Washington Post version of that story.

Here's the longer academic version of that same reporting.
posted by firechicago at 8:11 AM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

firechicago, thanks so much for those links!
posted by daisyk at 8:17 AM on October 9, 2014

Along the same lines of "Soviet atomic insignia": the liquidator medal awarded to the cleanup crews at Chernobyl, depicting radioactive particles over a drop of blood. More on the liquidators.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:27 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks very much for that second link ("My grandfather actually built this town"); it's a terrific read.

(As usual, I can't deal with an excess of links and ignored the later ones.)
posted by languagehat at 8:38 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Popular Culture References

The [liquidator] medal can be seen pinned to Mr. Bobinsky's shirt in the 2009 animated film Coraline.

Wow, I was not expecting to read that.
posted by daisyk at 8:38 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did a serious double take reading this post. Once upon a time I spent a summer teaching English in a nearby, similarly-named closed city: Zelenogorsk, which went by the name Krasnoyarsk-45 in times of nuclear production. It's also got a nuclear-themed coat of arms, though without the cartoonish element the bear adds. Though Zelenogorsk did have a giant monument (~40 feet tall) in the middle of a traffic circle on a main boulevard with a large atom sculpture on top.

It was a wonderful experience, eye-opening in the best ways, and I formed a number of lasting friendships. I could relate so many stories about Zelenogorsk. Or, broadly, the morphing of a coldly utilitarian city into a new, more open one. I'll try to cherry pick just a couple:

(1) Like Oak Ridge, Tennessee, there was a concentration of sharp scientific minds in the town to help with the nuclear programs. This raised the bar for general science/math aptitude among the populace. (even moreso than Russia at large, which, I would say, has a distinctly higher aptitude for this sort of thing than the US) As I was being introduced to the schoolchildren during the summer camp, they got to ask me some get-to-know you questions which I would answer in very basic English. Their responses to my answers -- delayed, as they waited for the other teachers to translate -- was usually a few chuckles or a some whispers between students. But once response absolutely astounded me, as it was both universal and (seemingly) earnest: "what books do you like to read?" "I like to read math books." **applause** Given that I'd be as rich as Mikhael Khodorovsky if I had a nickel for every time I heard "why do I have to learn this..." in my classrooms, I was floored.

(2) One of my friends there was a DJ. (his underground metal club he DJed at would occupy a few stories on this list if I kept on rambling) He of course wanted to mine through my mp3 player to get some new sounds. As always, I was equipped with nothing but R&B, soul, and funk. I swear -- with the possible exception of "I Feel Good" -- he was unfamiliar with James Brown... but he was an instant convert. He did A/V for the summer camp, and he would sample Make It Funky in between the silly skits that the teachers put on. It grew to become somewhat of a theme music for us at the camp, and of course by the end of camp, during some of the final ceremonies, we got a hundred plus Russian youngsters dancing around to James Brown.

There are a million more stories -- what an experience. Thanks for the post, I needed a good rousing dose of nostalgia today!
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 8:51 AM on October 9, 2014 [18 favorites]

Oh, one other thing from the post: I laughed at the hardcover, glossy, dual-language promo book about Zheleznogorsk. This must have been a thing amongst these closed cities. Sure enough, my friends gifted me a nearly identical book touting the virtues of a life in Zelenogorsk. Mostly it was mundane pictures of all the necessary commerical and civic institutions (schools, factories, administrative buildings, universams). It seemed that great care was taken to ensure exactly 25% of the photos were from summer, spring, winter, and fall! The book was equally fascinating, unintentionally hilarious, and puzzling. If you offered me $125 for it I would turn you down instantly.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 9:04 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Their flag and coat of arms is a bear splitting the atom

Bears Split the Atom. The lesser-known sequel to Terry Bisson's Bears Discover Fire.
posted by Naberius at 9:30 AM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

The space had been excavated by tens of thousands of gulag slave laborers, who removed more rock from inside the mountain than was used to build the Great Pyramids

To be fair, they did have power tools.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:01 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I'm astonished to be living in the post-Soviet era.
posted by doctornemo at 10:25 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want desperately to buy something with a bear splitting the atom.
posted by corb at 10:45 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

To be fair, they did have power tools.

A lot of gulag laborers were mining uranium bare-handed, so... Maybe not!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:59 AM on October 9, 2014

This is what my phone has looked like for the past few weeks.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 11:02 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a fantastic post. The best Soviet posts are on MeFi! Spacibo!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:38 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Unrelated, but I love that Win98 tumblr theme.
posted by brokkr at 2:00 PM on October 9, 2014

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