The Mayak Chemical Combine resides in Siberia, in a very picturesque region of the country. However, after years of lax safety at the nuclear facility (which produced the materials for the first Russian nuclear bombs, and now processes spent radioactive fuel from around Europe) the area has been covered in radioactivity. The main safety risks/breaches are as follows:

  • Lake Karachay: In the 50s and 60s nuclear waste was repeatedly and deliberately dumped into this lake, conveniently adjoining the main plant. Too bad that it was seasonally dry, and that unusually strong winds grabbed all of the radioactive sediment and chucked it over parts of Russia. By this point Mayak was putting out more becquerels into the environment over decades than Chernobyl did in one go.
  • Techa River: The Russians also dumped neat nuclear waste into this river, which not only flowed towards the arctic circle and therefore contaminated the unspoilt wilderness of the ice cap, but was also the source of drinking water and a local bathing spot for the village adjoining Mayak, Cheyabilinsk. The net result? Cancer and also plenty of horribly mutated children.
  • Various accidents: Mayak has not been without its fair share of that storage tank full of nuclear waste exploding. That's a few more becquerels in the environment then. And that one with the fire...which happened twice. In the same decade.
Mayak is currently in the process of being shut down, for obvious reasons. The Russian government is only just taking notice of the fact that all of its nuclear plants have been involved in some form of safety incident, and that you can't cover up people dying and having deformed children. And you can't silence Greenpeace.

In 1957, several trenches worth of radioactive material exploded at Mayak. Waste was spread over an estimated four hundred to nine hundred kilometers, contaminating dozens of settlements, ruining the groundwater, and prompting the Soviets to perform their usual cleanups. Russians were removed from villages, their settlements bulldozed as they were moved elsewhere by the infinite wisdom of Moscow. Native Tatars were told nothing, and left in place to suffer, fear, and die in the wake of a bountiful harvest of hay and wheat from radioactive fields.

Signs were put up around the most contaminated of the areas. Maintain a constant speed and do not roll down your windows. Do not loiter.

1957 was not the first disaster at Mayak. Before came the contamination of Lake Karachay, used as a dumping ground for waste, and the strong winds of 1951 that brought the initial wave of radioactive dust across Europe and Asia.

Meanwhile throughout the next forty years, the cover up continued. Doctors came to study the locals. First teeth. Then tissue samples. Enough of a pittance was paid out to keep the local Tatars fed: enough to live on, not enough to escape. The officials, not understanding the threat any better than the natives, ordered that meat could not be eaten unless boiled for at least two hours. The berries and plants and other fruit of the land were banned from sale - except internally to the zone.

Who cares about the tribesmen? Doubtlessly they're plotting against us, comrades.

If you hunt for pictures of the land contaminated by Mayak, you'll find rusting signs with the fading signs of radiation warnings, themselves as contaminated (if not moreso) than the rivers they sit beside. If you look for nearby Lake Karachay, you'll find it filled with concrete in a vain attempt to keep the waste at the bottom of the lake from blowing further away.

Then you'll die. To sit by the lake for even five minutes is to receive a fatal dose of radiation.

In 1952, Russia finally acknowledged the incidents at Mayak. So far, little of note has been done for the locals. Six Euros a month is little compensation for a fatal dose of radiation and a blind eye turned to the massive rates of cancer in the region.

The Tatars, the lake, and the contamination are still there.

So is Mayak.

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