Russia’s Secret City: The Most Radioactive Place On Earth

“The arms race is a race between nuclear weapons and ourselves.” —Martin Amis

In A Nutshell

Russia’s Lake Karachay was used in the 1950s as a dumping site for radioactive waste. Now it is the most polluted place on the planet, with enough radioactivity to kill a person in less than an hour. At its height, it was putting more than 200,000 times the normal amount of radioactivity into the area due to poor waste disposal practices.

The Whole Bushel

Deep in the Ural Mountains of Russia lies a beautiful, picturesque body of water called Lake Karachay. But don’t get too close—it’s a silent killer, and it’s been constantly emitting lethal doses of radiation for the past 60 years. In the mid 1940s, the Soviet Union built a secret city in the Southern Urals called Chelyabinsk-40. The purpose: to manufacture nuclear weapons from the uranium-238 mined in the surrounding hills. By 1948, the first reactor was up and running, and the Chelyabinsk-40 facility (also referred to as Chelyabinsk-65) was working at full steam, converting uranium into plutonium and shipping it off to the bomb builders.

But there was one problem—when they built the facility, all the planning and resources went into creating the plutonium, but not getting rid of the waste. So they did what most people have done at some point—they dumped it in the closest river. Specifically, the Techa River, which provided water for about 39 towns and villages downstream from the plutonium plant.

After three years of unwittingly poisoning their own populace, the Soviet Union sent researchers out to make sure the waste wasn’t getting out of control. Here’s what they found: Normal background in the area amounts to roughly .21 Röntgens each year. The Techa River was emitting 5 Röntgens on an hourly basis.

So they dammed up the river, relocated tens of thousands of villagers, and, having learned from past mistakes, found a new place to dump their nuclear waste cocktail: Lake Karachay. For somewhere between 30 to 40 more years (the Soviet Union didn’t even acknowledge its existence until 1990), Lake Karachay was the primary waste reservoir for the Chelyabinsk plant. The reasoning was that Lake Karachay didn’t have any surface outlets—one river went in, no rivers came out—so there was no way for the radioactive waste to escape. However, later testing revealed that the lake’s waters were definitely seeping out through the groundwater into the surrounding Asanov swamp.

To make matters worse, a 1967 drought dried up part of the lake, leaving a wide shoreline covered in radioactive dust. When the winds came, that nuclear dust cloud went airborne and drifted across 2,300 square kilometers (900 sq mi), containing half a million people. Instances of leukemia in the area rose a whopping 41 percent in just a few years.

Right now, the shores of Lake Karachay emit 600 Röntgens per hour, and that’s about as much radiation as it takes to guarantee a slow death. But that’s not all you have to be worried about: The entire area is so unstable that if a single dam breaks, the Techa River and all its radiation could pour through the Asanov swamp, into the Ob’ River, and out into the Arctic Sea, where currents would carry 120 million Curies of radioactivity into the Atlantic.

Show Me The Proof

Russia’s Plutonium
Weapons of Mass Destruction: Chelyabinsk-65 / Ozersk
Concentration factors in reservoir 11 and Asanov Swamp

  • TheHumanSub

    America – “Amateurs”.

  • Exiled Phoenix

    When the winds came, that nuclear dust cloud went airborne and drifted across 2,300 square kilometers (900 sq mi), “containing” half a million people.
    That is a very powerful windstorm. Lol, I know it was supposed to be contaminated!!

  • cire

    worst case scenario: goodluck to atlantic if a dam breaks

  • inconspicuous detective

    and this is the risk you run when you deal with anything nuclear. any reason why we should continue to use it as a power source? no. didn’t think so.

    • A_Lwin

      Many reasons, compared to other power plants, nuclear power generates a huge amount of energy per pound of fuel. It’s low on carbon emissions, doesn’t require large area of land like wind turbines and for the immediate future it is the only type that can meet the ever growing demand of energy by the ever growing human population.

      • inconspicuous detective

        the risk outweighs the reward for me.

        • Supbro

          It is the way of the future. If you can keep constant surveillance on the equipment, it’s actually quite safe as well. And as said above, the energy yield compared to material used is huge.

          • inconspicuous detective

            i don’t see it being embraced anytime soon, and with the number of actual accidents covered up by former soviet countries and the dangers that nuclear power has been shown to have, i don’t think it’s a viable route.

          • Sullenman

            What a child, you would go into a nacisitic rage if the electric energy that supplies all your (and our) devices would stop. There’s an ever increasing demand of energy and there aren’t enough rivers to build dams or enough places to build wind turbines. Nuclear energy is the way to go, the universe does it all the time; the catch is that humanity as whole, needs to be unconditionally responsible when it comes to nuclear energy wastes. And humanity is still ways off from being THAT responsible, but I like to believe that someday we will be.

          • A_Lwin

            Hydroelectricity requires building dams or redirecting rivers. These actions change the surrounding environment and effect ecosystems and wildlife.

            Wind turbines require so much land area, or sea area of they’re built in the sea.

            Solar and tidal power, what is currently available on the commercial market is neither cheap nor efficient, they can only convert 10-20% of the light that falls on it into energy. The type of solar panels I want (transparent to be used as windows, 80-90% or more efficiency in converting light into electricity) are still being researched in universities, a long cry from mass commercial production.

            And I definitely do not support any form of power plant that uses fossil fuels that pollute the atmosphere.

          • A_Lwin

            Another thing we need to keep in mind that currently operating nuclear power plants are decades old. We have the technology and knowhow to build newer, safer nuclear power plants.

          • marc Iwata

            They’ll never be safe enough because the planet isn’t stable enough. We’re already basking in much higher radiation than we should be, and this poison is cumulative. Why do you suppose cancer is so prolific?

          • inconspicuous detective

            i highly doubt it. in fact, by the time we are “responsible” nuclear energy won’t even be a viable source of power. it’s stupid to just keep rattling a saber about how it’s the way to go when things like chernobyl and fukushima show us, every single time, that human error and nature will ALWAYS keep these things totally unsafe. check under places like nevada or new mexico (can’t forget which) where we in the states buried our nuclear waste years ago and how it’s still a major danger and you’ll understand.

          • Sullenman

            OK sir what solution do you have for a waste free, renewable, high density, easy accessable, maintenance free source of energy?

          • inconspicuous detective

            solar power, for starters.

          • Chester

            Solar isnt free, its incredibly inefficient and guess what …IT USES MORE FOSSIL FUEL TO MAKE THEM THAN THE ENERGY IT WILL PRODUCE EVER!!!.

          • inconspicuous detective

            all you have to do, is prove the things you’re saying. you can’t. so you won’t. and i’m leaving dude, talk to you about some other issue later that you don’t understand.

          • Chester

            Coming from the guy who doesnt know what nuclear fusion is ill take that as a compliment, and my proof is the Law of thermodynamics…maybe look it up. Also maybe look into what solar panels are made of and you can see that the manufacturing carbon needed to make them will never be offset by the amount of energy they produce, its pretty much common knowledge.

          • Al Sharpton

            fission not fusion we have not been able to create fusion. lol your common knowledge right?

          • Chester

            yes but he didnt know what nuclear fusion was in one of his posts above so its like talking to a child.

          • Alucard_the_last

            How about you prove your position?

          • inconspicuous detective

            i already have. the issue is proving that nuclear energy is safe, which we have NOT been able to do yet.

          • Lampredi1438

            Harvesting the raw materials to manufacture solar cells is not environmentally friendly either. Same goes for the rare-earth magnets in wind turbines.

          • Sullenman

            Solar power, isn’t the sun a natural occurring NUCLEAR reactor?

          • inconspicuous detective

            and what happens if it becomes unstable and EXPLODES? consider how screwed something like the earth would be with the power of the sun in human hands. the safest way to harness the same power is to use solar energy, no not on its own but i don’t mean find a way to create a mini sun to power everything either. don’t be so foolish.

          • marc Iwata

            Not one source, but MANY. Dependant upon location and availability of resources of each environment. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal, etc…reduction of energy consumption, earthship and other extremely efficient dwellings. The answers are right in front of us. We just have to try, and quit making justifications for playing with deadly substances.

          • A_Lwin

            We need to invest more into developing better use of solar energy. And as we know that our oceans and seas are never still we need to also invest in the use of tidal energy. I’m not sure if geo-thermal is a viable source that could meet the demands of our entire growing population, also I’m worried that drawing heat from our planet’s core could also result in core cooling which would be disastrous for the planet.

            Another technology which needs to be improved and developed would be fusion power, our current nuclear power plants use fission which is the dangerous one.

          • inconspicuous detective

            the entire first paragraph there is just what i’m talking about.

            the second one i can’t say either way, as i’m not terribly familiar with fusion would work for us (though, safer is better so i’ll gladly take your word for it).

            however, this i disagree with. with the same amount of resources we could possibly waste on nuclear power, as well as trying to keep the raft with a hole in it floating that is oil, we could already be traisitioning to and studying further how to maximize both solar and greener energy. we’re just being incredibly lazy and apathetic.

          • Chester

            Fukishima wasnt human error, it had nothing to do with humans, it was a freak earthquake and tsunami that breached the 20 meter tsunami wall. It was a worst case scenario. Chernobyl was just inferior russian equipment.

          • inconspicuous detective

            exactly. and to call something inferior is not an excuse, it’s another reason why we shouldn’t do it.

          • Chester

            Noooo its a reason to reflect and improve, set higher standards (like the west has always done) and develop better methods of dealing with disasters, radioactive waste as well as look at future more efficient ways of producing energy ….FUSION REACTOR. You say all this BS about green energy but we could never ever power our country off it alone, so whats your solution to the energy crisis? Nuclear is clearly the only reliable viable source.

          • inconspicuous detective

            nobody said green alone, but majority green is the best alternative. can you build a fusion reactor? does anyone currently have the technology to do so? can we really capture the power that supplies the sun’s energy and keep it for ourselves safely? think man, you have a brain.

          • Chester

            You literally said green energy alone…if you cant use nuclear than what…

          • Al Sharpton

            he doesn’t know what he’s talking about it’s fission not fusion.

          • Chester

            actually i do know, you just dont know how to read….look at future more efficient ways of producing energy ….FUSION REACTOR..Fusion reactors are the future way of producing nuclear energy as they are cleaner and far more efficient than fission.

          • inconspicuous detective

            i am admittedly confused myself, but thank you for at least clarifying.

          • marc Iwata

            That’s ridiculous…we’re floating through space with billions upon billions of other large bodies of matter, on a massive ball of magma and shifting tectonic plates, into an unknown future. There are too many variables for it to be safe. Humans have thived for millenia without nuclear power, and we still can. Solar, hydro, tidal, wind, geothermal, etc., are all extremely viable. And they won’t poison our grandchildren. Of course without real solutions to our ignorant, out of control population growth…it is far more difficult to evolve.

          • Lampredi1438

            True, the RBMK reactors were dinosaurs, based on a design nobody in the Western world wanted, because of their poor design.

          • Hillyard

            Actually it was a combination of both human error and nature. They should have built the reactor on higher ground, with a higher seawall. And a lot of safety violations were overlooked by the Japanese govt. because the companies that provide nuke power also provide a lot of campaign money.

          • marc Iwata

            They shouldn’t have built it period. Clearly.

          • ヘンリ ガリ

            What is funny about this is the area the Fukishima reactor was built on was high ground originally. When the sight was chosen the director at the time thought having the plant on a hill would cost the company more in transporting product, so they had the hill leveled. So the truth is if they stuck with the sight as it was the plant would have been well above the tsunami peak years later.

          • marc Iwata

            You can make all of the excuses you can think of, but to say Fukushima wasn’t human error is ridiculous. Humans created it and didn’t keep it from massively polluting our seas and land. It’s human arrogance and humans have to take responsibility! Just like Chernobyl and all of the bomb tests and other leaks.

          • Mike b

            It was human error,why? Because five years before the accident a study suggested that they add more height to the sea wall. It was estimated that a big tsunami could breach the sea wall and destroy the plant.Well,it was human error because the wall addition never happened.

          • marc Iwata

            Absolutely correct!

          • Chester

            Couldnt agree more this guys a fuckin wad.

          • marc Iwata

            You are so very wrong, and it’s literally insane to advocate for this. All because of your childish fear of losing use of your devices? And a dangerous short sighted perception. No to whatever you were going to say next.

          • A_Lwin

            All those accidents were human errors, not the fault of the technology. And let’s face it, Soviet Cold War technology was just crap. The US Navy is a better example where strict management of the technology has not resulted in any accidents or failures.

          • inconspicuous detective

            three mile island was quite nearly a massive disaster. i don’t mean to sound so…i kinda sound like one of those people right now who repeats themselves and doesn’t seem to get the point but really, we have no effective way to manage the waste and we are humans so error is all too common. true we need alternative energy but nobody is trying anything green on a large scale, which would presumably be the next source after we destroy what oil we have left (because we aren’t moving onto anything until oil is long gone).

          • A_Lwin

            TMI was never as serious as the media made it out to be. And the public reaction: just china syndrome.

            One of the reactors is still operating.

          • inconspicuous detective

            yea so? it could have been bad, and we don’t need to evacuate entire towns ever time a reactor decides to show a false reading (or whatever, i’m pulling that out of thin air to make the point rather than dissect what happened with three mile). i mean yea, alright it’s a powerful source of energy. but it’s just too risky.

          • Lee Oslund

            Again, watch Pandora’s Promise to get all of this in perspective. There is a beach in Brazil that is more radioactive naturallyl than just about all of the area around Fukashima.

          • Chester

            Because green is more expensive and incredibly inefficient, Nuclear Fusion is the power of the future, cleaner than Fission reactors (less waste) and 10 X the energy output.

          • inconspicuous detective

            it’s expensive on purpose, to avoid its use and keep us oil dependent.

          • Chester

            Except most 1st world power is supplied by nuclear and their already shutting down coal plants in favour of nuclear.

          • inconspicuous detective

            really? can you provide proof of that either? i mean *MOST* first world power being supplied by nuclear energy?

          • Chester
          • Lee Oslund

            The waste management is political, not technological. Reprocessing takes the majority of the most highly dangerous elements in the spent fuel (plutonium for example) and reuses it for reactor fuel.

            That said, reactor technology has come a very long way in the past 30 years. Current IFR reactors can suffer a worst case scenario accident, and will shut themselves down and cool down with no intervention.

            I would strongly recommend that anyone watch “Pandora’s Promise” either on Netflix, or find it online. The central persons in this documentary are ALL former rabidly antinuclear environmentalists. Not any more.

            Having worked in nuclear energy for 28 years, I learned a LOT about nuclear vs fossil vs. wind and solar. What most don’t understand is that neither solar or wind provide a steady reliable “base load” power source. There are times that both must be supplemented with either fossil or natural gas, both of which are CO2 contributors.

            It seems to me that we are faced with a choice. Either develop the available and new reactor technology for fission reactors and/or develop nuclear fusion that is usable on a commercial scale. or face a planet that will slowly, in many places,,, become nearly uninhabitable..

            Yes, there are climate scoffers, but when 96% of climate scientists are in agreement, I think it’s a pretty safe bet.

          • Demoniacal

            You have to take into consideration the time…1940-late 60’s…technology has come long way in both the reactors and waste management…Google new generation nuclear reactor and you’ll find huge difference in efficiency an safety.

          • inconspicuous detective

            and still examples exist of its failure. i’m sorry but the risk is too great to pursue it. that was proven in japan, freak accident or not. those things do happen, and frankly it’s worse than we’re being told.

          • Demoniacal

            still a very old reactor and not very fare to compare new technologies with old. There are many technologies not implemented yet as there have been just devised such that you can’t comment on and still call them unsafe. I do agree with you though to a point…but furthering technology will only make it safer

          • marc Iwata

            Actually, green, renewable energy is the way of the present and future. A single, inexpensive 36″ hydroelectric wheel can power a very large house. As can a modest solar array, windmills, etc. The question is not whether or not we need to use deadly fuels. It’s whether or not we can embrace the idea of keeping the planet clean, needing less, and not blindly growing our population until we’re forced to use any and all means available. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should…

        • Lampredi1438

          Then feel free to sit in the dark. At least your conscience will be clear.

          • inconspicuous detective

            i’m not getting all of my electricity from nuclear power, genius.

        • Alucard_the_last

          Then cancel your electricity. Every form of creating it has an environmental down side. See what it is like. Don’t use your electric for 24 hours. I bet you can’t do it.

          • inconspicuous detective

            soon as my electricity is 100% nuclear, sure. as it stands, it’s solar, non nuclear, and not liable to displace an entire city if something goes wrong at the power plant.

        • marc Iwata

          Worth the risk of destroying the amazing habitat we’re blessed with, and the health of many future generations? Even IF we had to live without electricity to keep from using nuclear (which we absolutely don’t), the risk is not worth it.

      • marc Iwata

        And only for the cost of….DEATH AND DESTRUCTION FOR CENTURIES!!! Fact: Our great grandchildren will be breathing and eating and drinking the isotopes we pollute with now.

    • aasrul

      People in year 3000AD gonna blame us. Similar like what we did now, we blame spanish to mass murdering American civilation.

      • Chester

        blame…more like thank, rather be eating tacos on my couch watching tv than scalping injuns from another tribe for corn.

        • Stefan

          I feel vaguely guilty for chuckling at this.

    • Chester

      I know right! Because wind and solar are so efficiently good at creating energy we dont need nuclear at all!! When nuclear power is done right and not by half ass’d communist countries its a completely safe, efficient and 0 carbon emissions process.

      • inconspicuous detective

        no, it’s really not. can you provide sources that say it’s safe minus human error and produces no waste?

        • Chester

          well nuclear fuel waste isnt in the form of Carbon Emissions, and considering i can count the major nuclear incidents on 1 hand and there are 430 nuclear plants world wide id say its relatively safe, and the energy they produce is huge compared to “green energy”.

          • inconspicuous detective

            can you count the number of displaced citizens, illness, and birth defects on one hand as well? if so, color me impressed, and lemme know when it becomes worth it.

          • Chester

            the day it was feasible it was worth it…i guess we should have been pumping out coal reactors instead of investing in nuclear for the last 50+ years….Hey those green energy BS you love so much, ya guess what they will never even be carbon neutral, it cost more energy in the form of carbon fuel to produce then they will ever generate, and iono but last time i checked 98% of their parts are petroleum bi-products, so i guess all those chinese kids getting horrible cancers to build your crappy inefficient devices is worth it to right?

          • inconspicuous detective

            right. you can’t provide any proof, you’ll resort to insults and stonewalling. i should’ve expected this from you, i’m out man.

          • Chester

            lol look at Chinas fuckin air! thats my proof thats all from manufacturing, guess whats in solar cells and the batterys to store the energy…Lead, mercury, cadmium, acids, plastics, oil,etc etc etc…all which of the waste is being pumped into rivers, lakes etc etc so don’t fucking tell me that solar panels are better than nuclear, their not their POS like you.

          • Ben Nickless

            Here’s an analysis I think you will find interesting. It’s the rate of deaths per kilowatt hour ranked by energy generation type. In that respect, solar causes more deaths than nuclear (coal is the worst). See: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/ and http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html

          • inconspicuous detective

            and in turn it helps that we use more solar than nuclear power, but thank you for the link (i’ll be reading it in the mean time).

          • Ben Nickless

            Well, you’ll see in these articles that’s not true. And by a large margin. Solar provides 0.1% of global energy and nuclear is more like 5.9%, yet even raw deaths for solar are higher (440 v 90) never mind taking into account rate per percentage contribution to global power. Extrapolating solar up to 5.9% equivalent, that would equate to 25,960 deaths (i.e. 440 x 59). This is obviously estimate and extrapolation, but it’s pretty enlightening nonetheless.

    • Alucard_the_last

      This is a by-product of a socialist government that answers to no one -not nuclear power. Save 3 mile island, all of the worst nuclear comes out of the ex-Soviet Union which includes this disaster.

    • Breez Helly

      Governments don’t care.

  • patrick weidinger

    This is just amazing. Thanks.

  • Guest

    gjk

  • g.g.palin

    I wonder what the wildlife in this area is like.

  • Ben Nickless

    Inconspicuous Detective, here’s a couple of articles you might find interesting. It’s charting the human cost of power generation by type. Nuclear is safer than you think in this regard. http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html and http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/ And surprisingly is safer than solar, mainly because of deaths involved in manufacturing the solar panels.

  • J_Doe5686

    I like to read about places like this. It makes me wanna take the first flight there and explore it but I don’t wanna die or grow a third leg so reading about it it’s the next best thing.

  • robertrobin10 .

    and who said russian women arent radiant??!

  • The Illuminati

    Darn. What a mess.

  • donecek

    Do we need a nuclear war nowadays? Oh certainly not, just safe money guys for the expensive rockets and wait for the Russians as they will kill us all by these ways…Eh, they are a clever pranksters, do they?

  • If you desire to improve your knowledge only keep
    visiting this web site and be updated with the most recent gossip
    posted here.