too big to be a planned experiment
May 19, 2017 1:35 PM   Subscribe

After publishing The Rise And Fall Of T.D. Lysenko via samizdat (eng. trans. 1969), Zhores Medvedev was hounded by the Soviet secret police until his exile in the UK. There he continued to write, and after the success of his book Soviet Science (1978), Zhores Medvedev followed it up with Nuclear Disaster In The Urals, which pieced together rumors, scientific reports, and news articles to conclude that there had been an enormous radioctive release near Kyshtym in 1957, and the USSR was covering it up.

The Kyshtym disaster, named for the nearest known publically-marked town, or Mayak incident[PDF], named for the plutonium processing facility it occured at (aka Chelyabinsk-40/Chelyabinsk-65) is responsible for the East Urals Radioactive Trace and is one of the most nuclear contaminated places on Earth.

It's probably the largest nuclear disaster you've never heard of. Medvedev's conclusion of a specific accident was controversial in the West, with US researchers from Los Alamos initially considering the elevated radiation levels to be the result of normal unsafe operations[PDF], not the catastrophic failure of a waste containment system.

Mayak was the USSR's plutonium reactor and processing facility, and one of the targets of Gary Power's ill-fated U2 flight in 1960. It's one of three Nuclear Accidents in the Former Soviet Unions [PDF]
posted by the man of twists and turns (12 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
you're really nobody, country-wise, until you've got your very own Hanford Site
posted by indubitable at 2:08 PM on May 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I remember when Medvedev first wrote about this in New Scientist, and how staggering it was to realise how successful the coverup had been.
posted by Azara at 2:33 PM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

There have been some suggestions that this was actually the inspiration for the Strugatsky Bros' novel Roadside Picnic, which in turn inspired the Tarkovsky film Stalker, which, along with the (very publicly known) Chernobyl disaster, inspired the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series. Quite a pedigree for such a secret incident.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:38 PM on May 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

Good old Rosatom...Bears Ears and Rosatom
posted by Oyéah at 3:12 PM on May 19, 2017

That Medvedev?
posted by iffthen at 6:28 PM on May 19, 2017

posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:30 PM on May 19, 2017

Getting too adjusted to the potus45 threads, clearly. Time for a fast.
posted by iffthen at 6:39 PM on May 19, 2017

You had me at samizdat...
posted by Samizdata at 6:58 PM on May 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

>Activity inventory within the production site, 18 MCi
>within 23 km from the explosion site with contamination density of more than 2 Ci/km^2 in terms of strontium-90

Oh dear
posted by Standard Orange at 12:06 AM on May 20, 2017

Thanks for this awesomely detailed post. It answers a bunch of questions I had in my mind since seeing Samira Goetschel's documentary City 40 a year ago. She basically smuggled cameras into the city to make the film.

Trailer here.

Goetschel in an interview:

We stayed outside of the city for a few days. It's a huge forest right outside. And we were looking around to see if there was a way we could just sneak in, but it was impossible. It was just absolutely impossible. You know, it's double barbed-wire fences, it's heavily guarded, and so you can't get in basically. And I immediately figured out that we need help from the inside. They know that they cannot talk to anybody from the outside. Anybody on the outside is an enemy. And it's not just the foreigners, but also the Russians who live outside of the city. So this mentality of being paranoid, it's still very much there. And I wanted to see if these people would talk to me. I just jumped in. And they took me in, and they started talking.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:28 PM on May 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Even then, one pediatrician estimated that 90% of the village’s children suffered from genetic abnormalities, and only 7% were considered healthy.

That right there is horror.
posted by poe at 11:32 PM on May 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fascinating reading, thank you for sharing such a wealth of info.
posted by sektah at 9:22 AM on May 21, 2017

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