The Mayak Production Association (Russian: Производственное объединение «Маяк», from Маяк 'lighthouse') is an industrial complex which is one of the biggest nuclear facilities in the Russian Federation. It housed plutonium production reactors and a reprocessing plant. Located 150 km south-east of Ekaterinburg between the towns of Kasli and Tatysh 72 km northwest of Chelyabinsk, the closest city to the nuclear complex is Ozyorsk, the central administrative territorial district. As part of the Russian (formerly Soviet) nuclear weapons program, Mayak was formerly known as Chelyabinsk-40 and later as Chelyabinsk-65, after the postal codes of the site.
In 1957 Mayak was the site of the Kyshtym disaster, one of the worst nuclear accidents in history, when the explosion of a poorly maintained storage tank released 50-100 tonnes of high-level radioactive waste, contaminating a huge territory in the eastern Urals and causing numerous deaths and injuries from radiation poisoning. The Soviet regime kept this accident secret for about 30 years. The event was eventually rated at 6 on the seven-level INES scale, third in severity only to the disasters at Chernobyl in the Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan.
Working conditions at Mayak, and a lack of environmental responsibility in the past, led to additional contamination of the surrounding lake district and severe health hazards and accidents. Some areas are still under restricted access because of radiation. In the past 45 years, about 400,000 people in the region have been irradiated in one or more of the incidents. Mayak was a target of Gary Powers' U-2 surveillance flight in May 1960.
Design and structure
The plant site covers about 90 square kilometers. The site borders Ozyorsk in which a majority of the staff of Mayak live as Mayak itself, in the Soviet Union, was not shown on public maps. The location of the site together with the plant city was chosen so that they would be such that the prevailing winds were generally of the direction that harmful emissions from the plant would have minimal impact on populated areas. On the grounds there are several nuclear reactors, a reprocessing plant and several secure storage locations for fissile materials and radioactive waste. Mayak is surrounded by a ~250 km2 exclusion zone.
Nearby is the site of the South Urals nuclear power plant. 
The Mayak plant was built in 1945–48, in a great hurry and in total secrecy, as part of the Soviet Union's atomic bomb project. The plant's original mission was to make, refine, and machine plutonium for weapons. Five nuclear reactors were built for this purpose. Later the plant came to specialize in reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors, and plutonium from decommissioned weapons. Today the plant makes tritium and radioisotopes, but no plutonium. In recent years, proposals that the plant reprocess, for money, waste from foreign nuclear reactors have given rise to controversy.
In the early years of its operation, the Mayak plant released quantities of radioactively contaminated water into several small lakes near the plant, and into the Techa river, whose waters ultimately flow into the Ob River. The downstream consequences of this radiation pollution have yet to be determined. Some residents[who?] of Ozersk claim that living there poses no present-day risk, because of the decrease in the ambient radiation level over the past 50 years. They also report no problems with their health and the health of Mayak plant workers. However, these claims lack hard verification, and many who worked at the plant in 1950s and 1960s subsequently died of the effects of radiation. While the situation has since improved, the administration of the Mayak plant has been repeatedly criticized in recent years for environmentally unsound practices.
Working conditions at Mayak resulted in severe health hazards and many accidents. The most notable accident occurred on 29 September 1957, when the failure of the cooling system for a tank storing tens of thousands of tons of dissolved nuclear waste resulted in a chemical (non-nuclear) explosion having an energy estimated at about 75 tons of TNT (310 gigajoules). This released 740 PBq (20 MCi) of fission products, of which 74 PBq (2 MCi) drifted off the site, creating a contaminated region of 15,000-20,000 km2 called the East Urals Radioactive trace. Subsequently, an estimated 49 to 55 people died of radiation-induced cancer, 66 were diagnosed with chronic radiation syndrome, 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and 470,000 people were exposed to radiation. This nuclear accident, the Soviet Union's worst before the Chernobyl disaster, is categorised as a level 6 "serious accident" on the 0-7 International Nuclear Events Scale.
When Zhores Medvedev exposed the disaster in a 1976 article in the New Scientist, some exaggerated claims were circulated in the absence of any verifiable information from the Soviet Union. People "grew hysterical with fear with the incidence of unknown 'mysterious' diseases breaking out. Victims were seen with skin 'sloughing off' their faces, hands and other exposed parts of their bodies." "Hundreds of square miles were left barren and unusable for decades and maybe centuries. Hundreds of people died, thousands were injured and surrounding areas were evacuated." Professor Leo Tumerman, former head of the Biophysics Laboratory at the Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow, disclosed what he knew of the accident around the same time. Russian documents were gradually declassified from 1989 onward that show the true events were less severe than rumoured.
According to Gyorgy, who invoked the Freedom of Information Act to open up the relevant Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) files, the CIA knew of the 1957 Mayak accident all along, but kept it secret to prevent adverse consequences for the fledgling USA nuclear industry. "Ralph Nader surmised that the information had not been released because of the reluctance of the CIA to highlight a nuclear accident in the USSR, that could cause concern among people living near nuclear facilities in the USA." Only in 1992, shortly after the fall of the USSR, did the Russians officially acknowledge the accident.
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On 10 December 1968, the facility was experimenting with plutonium purification techniques. Two operators were using an "unfavorable geometry vessel in an improvised and unapproved operation as a temporary vessel for storing plutonium organic solution." "Unfavorable geometry" means that the vessel was too compact, reducing the amount of plutonium needed to achieve a critical mass to less than the amount present. After most of the solution had been poured out, there was a flash of light and heat. After the complex had been evacuated, the shift supervisor and radiation control supervisor re-entered the building. The shift supervisor then entered the room of the incident, caused another, larger nuclear reaction and irradiated himself with a deadly dose of radiation.
The Mayak plant is associated with two other major nuclear accidents. The first occurred as a result of heavy rains causing Lake Karachay, a dried-up radioactively polluted lake (used as a dumping basin for Mayak's radioactive waste since 1951), to release radioactive material into surrounding waters. The second occurred in 1967 when wind spread dust from the bottom of Lake Karachay over parts of Ozersk; over 400,000 people were irradiated.
Major accidents at Mayak, 1953-2000:
- 15/03/1953 - Criticality accident. Contamination of plant personnel occurred.
- 13/10/1955 - Rupture of process equipment and the destruction of a process building.
- 21/04/1957 - Criticality accident in the factory number 20 in the collection oxalate decantate after filtering sediment oxalate enriched uranium. Six people received doses of 300 to 1,000 rem (four women and two men), one woman died.
- 10/02/1958 - Criticality accident in SCR plant. Conducted experiments to determine the critical mass of enriched uranium in a cylindrical container with different concentrations of uranium in solution. Staff broke the rules and instructions for working with YADM (nuclear fissile material). When SCR personnel received doses from 7600 to 13,000 rem. Three people died, one man got radiation sickness and went blind. In the same year Igor Kurchatov assigned the highest priority to the establishment of a special unit of state security. Such an organization was LYAB.
- 12/05/1960 - Criticality accident. Five people were contaminated.
- 26/02/1962 - An explosion occurred in the absorption column, destruction of equipment.
- 09/07/1962 - Criticality accident.
- 16/12/1965 - Criticality accident in factory number 20 lasted 14 hours.
- 10/12/1968 - Criticality accident. Plutonium solution was poured into a cylindrical container with dangerous geometry. One person died, another took a high dose of radiation and radiation sickness, after which he had two legs and his right arm amputated.
- 11/02/1976 - Unsafe actions of staff development at the radiochemical plant caused an autocatalytic reaction of concentrated nitric acid and organic liquid complex composition. The device exploded, there was contamination of premises repair zone and areas around the plant. The incident merited a International Nuclear Event Scale rating of 3.
- 10/02/1984 - Explosion in the vacuum equipment of a reactor.
- 16/11/1990 - Explosive reaction in reagent tanks. Two people received burns and one was killed.
- 07/17/1993 - Accident at radioisotope plant, resulting in the destruction of the absorption column and release into the environment of a small amount of α-aerosols. Radiation emission was localized at the manufacturing facility of the shop.
- 08/02/1993 - Accident at the plant used to treat liquid waste, this incident was associated with the depressurization of the pipeline and caused 2 m^3 of radioactive slurry to the surface of the earth (about 100 m^2 of contaminated surface). Depressurization of the pipeline led to leak to the surface of the pulp radioactive activity of about 0.3 Ci. Radioactive trace was localized, contaminated soil removed.
- 12/27/1993 - Incident at radioisotope plant where the replacement of a filter resulted in the release into the atmosphere of radioactive aerosols. Emissions were on the α-activity of 0.033 Ci, and β-activity of 0.36 mCi.
- 04/02/1994 - Recorded increased release of radioactive aerosols: the β-activity of 2-day levels of Cs-137 subsistence levels, the total activity of 7.15 mCi.
- 30/03/1994 - Recorded excess daily release of Cs-137 in 3, β-activity - 1,7, α-activity - by 1.9 times. In May 1994 the ventilation system of the building of the plant spewed activity 10.4 mCi β-aerosols. Emission of Cs-137 was 83% of the control level.
- 07/07/1994 - The control plant detected a radioactive spot area of several square decimeters. Exposure dose was 500 millirems per second. The spot was formed by leaking sewage.
- 31/08/1994 - Registered an increased release of radionuclides to the atmospheric pipe building reprocessing plant (238.8 mCi, with the share of Cs-137 was 4.36% of the annual emission limit of this radionuclide). The reason for the release of radionuclides was depressurization of VVER-440 fuel elements during the operation segments idle all SFA (spent fuel assemblies) as a result of an uncontrollable arc.
- 24/03/1995 - Recorded excess of 19% of normal loading apparatus plutonium, which can be regarded as a dangerous nuclear incident.
- 15/09/1995 - High-level liquid radioactive waste (LRW) was found in flow of cooling water. Operation of a furnace into the regulatory regime has been discontinued.
- 21/12/1995 - Cutting of a thermometric channel exposed four workers (1.69, 0.59, 0.45, 0.34 rem). The reason for the incident - a violation of the company's employees process procedures.
- 24/07/1995 - Cs-137 aerosols released, the value of which amounted to 0.27% of the annual value of MPE for the enterprise. The reason - the fire filter cloth.
- 14/09/1995 - Replacement covers and lubrication step manipulators registered a sharp increase in airborne α-nuclides.
- 22/10/1996 - Depressurization occurred in a coil while channeling cooling water from one storage tanks of high-level waste. The result was contaminated pipe cooling system repositories. As a result of this incident, 10 people were exposed to radiation exposure of 2.23 × 10-3 to 4.8 × 10-2 Sieverts.
- 20/11/1996 - A chemical-metallurgical plant in the works on the electrical exhaust fan caused aerosol release of radionuclides into the atmosphere, which made up 10% of the allowed annual emissions of the plant.
- 27/08/1997 - In building RT-1 in one of the rooms was found to be contaminated floor area of 1 to 2 m 2, the dose rate of gamma radiation from the spot was between 40 to 200 mR / s.
- 06/10/1997 - Recorded increasing radioactivity in the assembly building, the RT-1. Measurement of the exposure dose indicated up to 300 mR / s.
- 23/09/1998 - While increasing power output of reactor P-2 ("Lyudmila") after engaging automatic protection allowable power level was exceeded by 10%. As a result, the three channels of the fuel rod seal failed, resulting in the contamination of equipment and pipelines of the first circuit.
More recent major accidents:
- In 1994, a fire resulted in a radioactive gas leak of 4% of the plant's allowed annual release.
- In 2003, the plant's operating licence was revoked temporarily, due to liquid radioactive waste handling procedures resulting in waste being disposed into open water.
- In June 2007, an accident involving a radioactive pulp occurred over a two-day period.
- In October 2007, a valve failure during transport of a radioactive liquid resulted in spilling of a radioactive material.
- In 2008, a repair worker was injured during a "pneumatic" incident, involving a quantity of alpha emitter release. The worker's hand was injured and the wound contaminated, with the worker's finger amputated to avoid further injury.
- List of civilian nuclear accidents
- List of military nuclear accidents
- Nuclear and radiation accidents
- Nuclear contamination
- Ozyorsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast
- Radioactive contamination
- Radioactive waste
- Reprocessed uranium
- Techa the radioactive river
- Will Standring (2006). Review of the current status and operations at Mayak Production Association. Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.
- A report on the 1957 accident and on endemic radioactive pollution at Mayak
- Oleg A. Bukharin. "The Cold War Atomic Intelligence Game, 1945-70". Studies in Intelligence (Central Intelligence Agency) 48.
- This section copied and translated from the German Wikipedia entry for "Mayak", with some grammatical errors corrected
- Koshurnikova, N.A.; Shilnikova, N.S.; Sokolnikov, M.E.; Bolotnikova, M.G.; Okatenko, P.V.; Kuznetsova, I.S.; Vasilenko, E.K.; Khokhryakov, V.F.; Kreslov, V.V. (2006). "Medical-dosimetry registry of workers at the 'Mayak' production association". International Journal of Low Radiation 2006 (Inderscience Publishers) 2 (3/4): 236–242. doi:10.1504/IJLR.2006.009516 (inactive 2014-03-12). Retrieved 6/01/2012.
- Azizova, Tamara V.; Muirhead, Colin R.; Moseeva, Maria B.; Grigoryeva, Evgenia S.; Sumina, Margarita V.; O’Hagan, Jacqueline; Zhang, Wei; Haylock, Richard J. G. E.; Hunter, Nezahat (2011). "Cerebrovascular diseases in nuclear workers first employed at the Mayak PA in 1948–1972". Radiation and Environmental Biophysics (Springerlink) 50 (4): 539–552. doi:10.1007/s00411-011-0377-6. PMID 21874558. Retrieved 6/01/2012.
- Larin, Vladislav (September–October 1999). "Mayak's walking wounded". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 55 (5): 20–27. doi:10.2968/055005008.
- Standring, William J.F.; Dowdall, Mark and Strand, Per (2009). "Overview of Dose Assessment Developments and the Health of Riverside Residents Close to the "Mayak" PA Facilities, Russia". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 6 (1): 174–199. doi:10.3390/ijerph6010174. ISSN 1660-4601. PMC 2672329. PMID 19440276. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- Gusev, Igor A.; Gusʹkova, Angelina Konstantinovna; Mettler, Fred Albert (2001-03-28). Medical Management of Radiation Accidents. CRC Press. pp. 15–29. ISBN 978-0-8493-7004-5. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
- Pollock, Richard, 1978. "Soviets Experience Nuclear Accident," Critical Mass Journal 3 pp.7–8
- Zhores Medvedev, The Australian, 9.12.1976
- Gyorgy, A. et al., 1980. No Nukes: Everyone's Guide to Nuclear Power. South End Press ISBN 0-89608-006-4. pp. 13, 128
- McLaughlin et al. "A Review of Criticality Accidents" by Los Alamos National Laboratory (Report LA-13638), May 2000
- Glowing Georji: A 1994 Darwin Award nominee
- Annex C: Radiation exposures in accidents (pdf). "Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation – 2008 Report to the General Assembly". United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. II Scientific Annexes C, D, and E. 2011.
- All of the above list transferred directly from the Russian Wikipedia entry for "Mayak". Translated and some grammatical errors corrected
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mayak nuclear facility.|
- Urals Research Center for Radiation Medicine (URCRM) (Government organisation studying health impacts of Mayak)
- "Inside the Zone" by Alexander Zaitchik. The most in-depth recent report on the history of the Mayak plant and its impact on local communities.
- Material prepared for the Nuclear Threat Initiative by the Monterey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
- Chelyabinsk-65 / Ozersk Combine 817 / Production Association Mayak. From GlobalSecurity.org.
- On Ozersk and Mayak, from the Ural Press.
- Eyewitness accounts of unsafe working conditions at Mayak.
- Campaign to clean up Mayak. From Greenpeace web site.
- More from Greenpeace
- Article from the Russian press
- URAL CHERNOBIL: TRAGEDY of TATARS
- The book F.Bajramova "The nuclear archipelago or atomic genocide against Tatars" (1st chapter)
- Annotated bibliography for the Mayak nuclear complex from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
- A part of the staff at Mayak (From their official homepage)
- "CHELYABINSK "The Most Contaminated Spot on the Planet" - a documentary film by Slawomir Grunberg - Log In Productions - distributed by LogTV LTD". Logtv.com. Retrieved 2010-07-13.