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First general meeting of members of the "Coalition of Nuclear Centres and Partners", Moscow,
December 18, 2012

"For achievements that first make you smile, and then make you think", October 2012
CNCP Annual Conference, Sevastopol, May 2012



Nuclear weapon production at Mayak

Region Map 845; Year 1945 (From ozersk.euro.ru)

Mayak (known variously as Combine#817, Base-10, State Chemical Plant after Mendeleev, PO 21, Chemical Combine Mayak, and Production Complex Mayak) was the first complex set up by the Soviets for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Work began in August 1945, with construction starting the next year on the Mayak Plant Annushka (Reactor A), the first in Eurasia. The date it went into operation,19 June 1948, is considered to be the birth of the Soviet atomic industry.

Scientists succeeded in producing weapon-grade plutonium in April 1949 which was used in the first Soviet atomic bomb RDS-1 on 29 August. Within a short space of time four industrial graphite-uranium reactors came into being, Reactor AB-1 in 1950, Reactor AB-2 and AI (tritium manufacture) in 1951, and Reactor AB-3 in 1952. The first two-contour heavy-water reactor -180 also went into operation at this time.

The complex initially consisted of an Industrial Reactor at Facility A, a Radio-Chemical Plant at Facility B and a Chemical-Metallurgical Plant at Facility C. The whole operation was headed by I.V. Kurchatov.

The technological process involved the transfer of Irradiated uranium cells from Reactor A to Radio-Chemical Plant B where they were dissolved with highly-active fission products to produce plutonium. The plutonium was then transferred to Chemical-Metallurgical Plant B, where it was processed into purified metal plutonium. Plutonium products were then shipped to KB-11 (Arzamas-16, now named Sarov).

The process of extracting plutonium from irradiated uranium posed a very high radiation risk for the workers involved, and produced a large amount of liquid radioactive waste. Insufficient attention was paid to safety and environmental factors in those early years, and, as a result, the workforce was exposed to an unknown quantity of radiation. Official figures show that Mayak accounted for 2,348 cases of radiation sickness out of a total of 2,700 in the first 10 years of nuclear production in Russia.

For many years, the highly radioactive waste produced during plutonium extraction was stored in special steel reservoirs on the site. In 1957, a breakdown in the cooling system led to a major accident. An explosion released a large amount of radiation into the atmosphere. This occurred when the nuclear waste solution dried out and formed a nitrate organic precipitate.

In the early 1960s, the company started on the construction of a radioactive waste processing and radioactive isotope production plants. In July 1976 work began on the first stage of a spent nuclear fuel processing complex (RT-1).

The last reactor to produce plutonium at the Mayak Plant ceased operation in 1990. In recent years, waste has been turned into a solid form through a vitrification process for safer storage. Since 1991, Mayak has vitrified over 11,000 cubic metres of highly radioactive waste which, in theory, should be safe for several centuries.

In the first years of Mayak's operation an unknown amount of low and medium level reactive waste was dumped into an open drainage system connected to the Techa River. As a result, people living downstream were exposed to radiation, the extent of which is still unknown due to the secrecy which then surrounded the site. To prevent further pollution, the area was dammed off, and the stream diverted into a new channel. Cleaning up the polluted water-basins along the old riverbed, known as the Techen Cascade, remains a serious problem today.

A highland bog, the Karachai Lake, was then used as the dumping ground for low level waste, and as a result this area has also been badly polluted. To prevent further leakage of radiation, the entire lake basin is being covered with reinforced concrete panels and infilled with rubble.

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