Successive Russian Governments since the mid-1990's have had the ambition to create a worldwide nuclear waste importation, reprocessing, and disposal service in Siberia. While they have changed domestic law to permit the importation of spent fuel, Western nuclear companies have been shipping other forms of nuclear waste to Russia for decades. Over 100,000 tons of uranium waste have been shipped to Russia since the early 1990's and the total volume is likely to be considerably more.
Nine year old Kostya, victim of radiation contamination from Mayak Nuclear Complex in the Ural Mountains in Russia.
The Soviet Union's nuclear program was launched by Josef Stalin in response to the US Manhattan project in the 1940's. Three large nuclear gulags for plutonium production were constructed at remote locations inthe Urals and Siberia.
The plants that produced the fissile materials for the Soviet bomb were "closed cities", the existence of which were kept secret: Mayak ("Lighthouse"), formerly Chelyabinsk-65, in the Ural Mountains near Kyshtym; the underground nuclear complex Zheleznogorsk, formerly Krasnoyarsk-26, and Zeversk, better known as Tomsk-7. All of them have a history of nuclear disasters, environmental contamination, and public health scandals, which were kept secret by the Soviet government.
In September 1957, a steel storage tank containing high-level radioactive waste exploded in Chelyabinsk-65 spreading large amounts of radiation over an area of 23,000 square miles, affecting 272,000 people.
In April 1993, a tank containing a mixture of paraffin and tributylephosphate exploded at the Tomsk-7 reprocessing plant, resulting in the release of uranium, plutonium and other radioactive substances. An area of more than 100 square kilometres was contaminated.
In total disregard of their disastrous record and the existing radioactive contamination, the cash-strapped Russian Ministry forAtomic Energy (Minatom) wants to import foreign nuclear waste for storage and/or reprocessing at Mayak or Zheleznogorsk.
Hidden in Russia's Southern Ural Mountains, the Mayak Chemical Combine is the world's largest nuclear complex. Over the last five decades it has discharged frightening quantities of radioactivity into the surrounding land and waterways.
Until recently Mayak was omitted from every map of Russia. It isarguably the most nuclear contaminated place on earth. Mayak'soperation has been plagued with nuclear accidents, environmentalcontamination and public health scandals. Yet, rather than decommissionand decontaminate the site, in 2001, the Russian parliament overturnedthe ban on the import of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.
For more information visit the Greenpeace Mayak website.
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