Greenpeace highlights 50 years of nuclear disaster in Mayak, Russia

Press release - 28 September, 2007
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the world’s second largest radiation accident, at Mayak in the Southern Urals, Greenpeace Russia has released a special report about the ongoing impacts of the Mayak tragedy. On the anniversary itself, Greenpeace will join local people in a protest rally in the nearby city of Chelyabinsk, to call for the relocation of those still living in contaminated areas and an end to Russia’s plans to import and reprocess even more foreign waste at the Mayak site.

Ramzis has hydrocephalus. “I don’t like to go to school, because the boys call me bad names. The girls avoid me and don’t want to go out with me. I hope I will not have children who look like me.” Ramzis lives near Mayak, the site of a former Russian nuclear plant and the most radioactively polluted place on Earth.

The explosion in September 1957 exposed 272,000 people to significant radiation. Half a century later, Mayak is one of the most radioactive places on earth, and the accident continues to have a devastating legacy. Many thousands of people have never been evacuated from contaminated areas. In surrounding towns and villages people have cancer rates more than double the Russian average. Yet, rather than learning the lessons of the tragedy, the Russian government has passed legislation to import spent nuclear fuel from other countries to Mayak that would then permanently stay at the plant.

 "Although the explosion was the worst, it was one of many accidents at the Mayak plant, where disasters have included radioactive waste being poured straight into the Techa River, which is actively used as source of water by thousands of people," said Vladimir Tchouprov of Greenpeace Russia. "None of the countries shipping their dirty nuclear waste to Russia would allow Mayak to continue operating on their own land.

"Countries considering sending their radioactive waste to Russia are abdicating responsibility for their nuclear activities by dumping it somewhere else. They may like to think that once it's out of their sight they've got rid of the problem, but nothing could be further from the truth. The people who will suffer its devastating effects are right here, the same victims that have suffered the effects of radiation disaster for the last 50 years."

The foreign fuel processed in Mayak so far has led to some three million cubic metres of radioactive liquid being dumped and released into the environment. Mayak has reprocessed over 1,540 tons of spent nuclear fuel from several countries including Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and the Czech Republic. Russian authorities now hope to negotiate future reprocessing contracts with Switzerland, Spain, South Korea, Slovenia, Italy, Belgium, and Slovakia.

"With its 50 year contamination legacy, Mayak is a horrific example of the true face of the global nuclear industry," said Jan Beranek, Greenpeace International Nuclear Energy Project Leader. "The world must learn the lessons of Mayak, and the anniversary must serve as a wake up call to the world about the real costs of nuclear power. Nuclear power undermines the solutions to climate change, by diverting resources away from the massive investment in renewable technologies and energy efficiency the world urgently needs to tackle the climate crisis (2)."

Other contacts: Greenpeace Russia: Vladimir Chuprov +7-951-7878204, Zhenya Belyakova +7-951-7878296Greenpeace International: Jan Beranek, +31 651 109 558

Notes: 1.A background media briefing on the Mayak tragedy is available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/mayak-a-50-year-tragedy2. Greenpeace’s Energy Revolution blueprint is available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/energyrevolutionreport3. Executive summary is available at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/energy-r-evolutionsummary