Pollution of Lake Karachay

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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".[1][2]


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. The sediment of the lake bed is estimated to be composed almost entirely of high level radioactive waste deposits to a depth of roughly 11 feet (3.4 m).

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".[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] By one estimate, the river contains 120 million curies of radioactive waste.[7]

Prevalence of pollution[edit]

Nuclear waste, either from civilian or military nuclear projects, remains a serious threat to the environment of Russia.[8] Reports suggest that there are few or no road signs warning about the polluted areas surrounding Lake Karachay.[9]

Some parts of the lake are extremely radioactive (600 röntgens/hour) and one could receive a lethal dose of radiation in 30 minutes (300 röntgens).[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lenssen, "Nuclear Waste: The Problem that Won't Go Away", Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C., 1991: 15.
  2. ^ Andrea Pelleschi (2013). Russia. ABDO Publishing Company. ISBN 9781614808787. 
  3. ^ (Laverov, Omelianeako and Velichkin 1994, 3)
  4. ^ "Critical Masses: Citizens, Nuclear Weapons Production, and Environmental Destruction in the United States and Russia", by Russell J. Dalton, 1999, p.79
  5. ^ Cancer mortality risk among workers at the Mayak nuclear complex., June 2003
  6. ^ Is this the most polluted place on Earth? The Russian lake where an hour on the beach would kill you 9 October 2012
  7. ^ "Russia", p. 121, publisher = Lonely Planet
  8. ^ "The Politics of Environmental Policy in Russia", p. 34, by David Lewis Feldman, Ivan Blokov
  9. ^ "The Burning Lake: A Volk Thriller", by Brent Ghelfi, p. 101

External links[edit]