The Mayak Production Association (Russian: Производственное объединение «Маяк», from Маяк 'lighthouse') is one of the biggest nuclear facilities in the Russian Federation, housing plutonium production reactors and a reprocessing plant. The nuclear complex is located 150 km south-east of Ekaterinburg, between the towns of Kasli and Tatysh, and 72 km northwest of Chelyabinsk. The closest city, Ozyorsk, is 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, referring to the postal codes of the site.
In 1957 Mayak was the site of the Kyshtym disaster, one of the worst nuclear accidents in history. During this catastrophe, a poorly maintained storage tank exploded, releasing 50-100 tons of high-level radioactive waste. The resulting radioactive cloud contaminated more than 750 km2 (290 sq mi), contaminating an expansive territory in the eastern Urals and causing sickness and death 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 Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan.
Design and structure
Mayak's nuclear facility plant covers about 90 square kilometers. The site borders Ozyorsk, in which a majority of the staff of Mayak live. Mayak, itself, was not shown on Soviet public maps. The location of the site together with the plant city was chosen to minimize the effects that harmful emissions could potentially have on populated areas. 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 between 1945–48, in a great hurry and in total secrecy as part of the Soviet Union's atomic bomb project. Five nuclear reactors were built to make, refine, and machine plutonium for weapons. 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, not plutonium. In recent years, proposals that the plant reprocess 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. Mayak continues to dump low-level radioactive waste directly into the Techa River today. Medium level waste is discharged into the Karachay Lake. According to the data of the Department of Natural Resources in the Ural Region, in the year 2000, more than 250 million m³ of water containing thousands of curies of tritium, strontium, and cesium-137 were discharged into the Techa River. The tritium concentration, alone, in the Techa River near the village Muslyumovo exceeds the permissible limit by 30 times.
Rosatom, a state-owned nuclear operations corporation, began to resettle residents of Muslyumovo in 2006. However, only half of the residents of the village were moved.  People continue to live in the immediate area of the plant, including Ozersk and other downstream areas. Residents 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 from the effects of radiation. While the situation has since improved, the administration of the Mayak plant has been repeatedly criticized in recent years by Greenpeace and other environmental advocates 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.
The Soviet Union did not release news of the accident and denied it happened for close to thirty years. However, residents of Chelyabinsk district in the Southern Urals reported observing polar-lights in the sky near the plant, and American aerial spy photos had documented the destruction of the disaster by 1960. This nuclear accident, the Soviet Union's worst before the Chernobyl disaster, is categorized 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 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 gradually declassified from 1989 onward show the true events were less severe than rumored.
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.
In 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. One operator died from receiving over 3000 rad. Five others received doses of 300 to 1,000 rem and temporarily became sick with radiation poisoning.
- 10/02/1958 - Criticality accident in SCR plant. Plant workers conducted experiments to determine the critical mass of enriched uranium in a cylindrical container with different concentrations of uranium in solution. Personnel received doses from 7600 to 13,000 rem, resulting in three deaths and one case of blindness caused by radiation sickness.
- 12/05/1960 - Criticality accident. Five people were contaminated.
- 26/02/1962 - Destruction of equipment. An explosion occurred in the absorption column.
- 09/07/1962 - Criticality accident.
- 16/12/1965 - Criticality accident. Seventeen individuals received exposure to small amounts of radiation over a period of 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 both 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, contaminating the repair zone and areas around the plant. The incident merited a International Nuclear Event Scale rating of 3.
- 10/02/1984 - Explosion.
- 16/11/1990 - Explosion. 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 - Depressurization of a pipeline caused 2 m^3 of radioactive slurry (about 100 m^2 of contaminated surface) 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) when operators violated 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.
- 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 dose of 2.23 to 48 milli-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 and 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 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" (PDF). Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.
- "Kyshtym Disaster". Nuclear-Heritage.net. 6 January 2014. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
- 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 (Inderscience Publishers) 2 (3/4): 236–242. doi:10.1504/IJLR.2006.009516 (inactive 2015-02-01). Retrieved 6/01/2012. Check date values in:
- 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. Check date values in:
- Larin, Vladislav (September–October 1999). "Mayak's walking wounded". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 55 (5): 20–27. doi:10.2968/055005008.
- A report on the 1957 accident and on endemic radioactive pollution at Mayak
- 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.
- "The nuclear disaster of Kyshtym 1957 and the politics of the Cold War". Arcadia. Environment and Society. 2012. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
- 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
- "Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation – 2008 Report to the General Assembly" (pdf). United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. 2011.
- All of the above list transferred directly from the Russian Wikipedia entry for "Mayak". Translated and some grammatical errors corrected
- Official web site (Russian)
|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.
- 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.