December 9, 2014
Source: wikipedia. Pollution of Lake Karachay
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A satellite view of Lake Karachay.
Lake Karachay, located in the southern Ural Mountains in eastern Russia, was a dumping ground for the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapon facilities. It was also affected by a string of accidents and disasters causing the surrounding areas to be highly contaminated with radioactive waste. Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute has described it as the “most polluted spot on Earth”.
Built in the late 1940s Mayak was one of Russia’s most prominent nuclear weapons factories. Mayak was kept secret by the government until 1990. When Russian president Boris Yeltsin signed a 1992 decree opening the area, Western scientists were able to gain access.
In 1994, a report revealed that 5 million cubic meters of polluted water had migrated from Lake Karachay, and was spreading to the south and north at 80 meters per year, “threatening to enter water intakes and rivers”. The authors acknowledged that “theoretical hazards developed into actual events”.
In November 1994, officials from the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy stated that Soviet officials initiated a process following the 1957 Kyshtym disaster resulting in the transfer of 3 billion curies of high level nuclear waste into deep wells at three other sites.
The Techa river, which provides water to nearby areas, was contaminated, and about 65% of local residents fell ill with radiation sickness. Doctors called it the “special disease” because they were not allowed to note radiation in their diagnoses as long as the facility was secret. In the village of Metlino, it was found that 65% of residents were suffering from chronic radiation sickness. Workers at the plutonium plant were also affected.
The pollution of Lake Karachay is connected to the disposal of nuclear materials from Mayak. Among workers, cancer mortality remains an issue. By the time Mayak’s existence was officially recognized, there had been a 21% rise in cancer cases, a 25% rise in birth defects, and a 41% rise in leukemia in the surrounding region of Chelyabinsk. By one estimate, the river contains 120 million curies of radioactive waste.
Prevalence of pollution
Nuclear waste, either from civilian or military nuclear projects, remains a serious threat to the environment of Russia. Reports suggest that there are few or no road signs warning about the polluted areas surrounding Lake Karachay.
Some parts of the lake are extremely radioactive (600 roentgens/hour) and you could receive a lethal dose of radiation in 30 minutes (300 roentgens). Radiation from the Chernobyl disaster added to the pollution of Lake Karachay. Some experts have suggested that the radioactivity has spread to the Techa River and may even reach the Arctic Ocean.