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Lake Karachay In Russia

Kristi McCracken, July 10, 2012

Lake Karachay, known to be the most polluted lake on the planet, lies south of Siberia and east of the Ural Mountains in Russia. Used as a reservoir for nuclear waste from the Mayak atomic weapons complex, its toxic waters are now mostly covered in concrete. Scientists who visited Lake Karachay in 1990 measured the radiation on the shore and the needles of their Geiger counters determined that a lethal dose would be received in only one hour. The radioactive fallout of three nuclear disasters decimating this lake affected approximately a million people in this region with widespread contamination dwarfing the devastation of the Chernobyl disaster.

Only months after the US dropped nuclear bombs on Japan, the Soviets, in a rush to create plutonium to arm their warheads, began construction of the Mayak complex near the lake. Toxic liquid waste began being dumped into the Techa River in 1949 exposing over 100,000 people living along the riverbanks to radiation. Then in 1957, a nuclear waste storage tank exploded at Mayak contaminating a total area of 9,000 square miles and releasing twice the amount of radiation as the Chernobyl accident. In 1967, a drought dried up Karachay Lake exposing radioactive sediment to the wind which blew toxic dust contaminating hundreds of miles surrounding the lake.

Because of this plant’s strategic military importance, each disaster contaminating the villagers, crops and water supply was shrouded in secrecy. Only when the Soviet Union was about to collapse in the 1990s did officials acknowledge the secret town of Chelyabinsk-40 which had not been included on any official maps. Now called Ozersk, this town, created to support the plutonium producing plant, is known for the toxic byproducts that were dumped into Lake Karachay. Though securing environmental and health information about this lake, her inhabitants and the startling consequences of improper nuclear disposal is still difficult, the facts are beginning to emerge.

In 1949, diluted nuclear waste from the Mayak nuclear plant began being dumped into the Techa River, which was the only source of water for 24 villages downstream. When scientists detected radiation along the river, barbed wire was strung along the river banks, but the villagers weren’t evacuated then, resulting in exposure to radiation levels four times higher than Chernobyl victims.

Instead of continuing to let the nuclear waste flow into the river, reservoirs were used to keep water contained. Since Karachay Lake, had no outlet, it was chosen as a reservoir. Concrete reservoirs were also built to further cool the radioactive isotopes. In 1957 the cooling system of a radioactive waste containment unit exploded with the force of 85 tons of TNT and spewed 20 million curies of radioactivity into the atmosphere. About 90 percent of the radioactivity fell out immediately in that area, but the rest formed a mile high radioactive cloud that blew across three providences.

All of the pine trees within a twelve mile radius of Chelyabinsk-40 were killed from the radiation within two years. At the edges of the contaminated zone, highway signs warned drivers to roll up their windows and not to stop for any reason. Contaminating 217 towns and villages with a combined population of almost 300,000 people, the dust cloud spread hazardous isotopes of cesium and strontium over 9,000 square miles, affecting food supplies. Villagers became fearful when mysterious diseases broke out and skin came off their faces and hands. After 10 days, the government permanently evacuated 10,000 people leaving many radioactive ghost towns. Unfortunately the evacuation for half of them didn’t take place until eight months after the accident so they consumed a great deal of contaminated food.

Though damaged by the accident, the factory kept operating sending more radioactive byproducts into Lake Karachay. The engineers reasoned that anything dumped into the lake would be contained. The lake accumulated 120 million curies of the radioactive isotopes of cesium 137 and strontium 90. By comparison, the Chernobyl accident released one million curies of cesium 137 and a quarter of a million curies of strontium 90. Today, radioactivity in the ground water has crept a mile out from the lake.

During the long hot summer of 1967 a severe drought struck and shallow Lake Karachay gradually began to shrink. Evaporating half the lake in only months, radioactive sediment was exposed on its shores and winds spread this toxic dust over 900 square miles exposing half a million people to radiation levels similar to those in Hiroshima. Approximately 5000 residents nearest to the lake received an average dose more than double the safe limit on radiation at that time. This toxic cloud affected 63 populated areas totaling 40,000 people with more than 3 times the currently accepted safe level of radiation. To help prevent more sediment from leaving Lake Karachay over the next dozen years it was filled with dirt, rocks and concrete earning it the nickname of the concrete lake.

Once the Mayak nuclear complex became operational, death and diseases in the region increased dramatically due to the dumping of radioactive waste into the river eventually resulting in the evacuation of 24 villages 25 miles downstream from the complex. A report published in 1991 on the health of the people living on the banks of the Techa River showed that the incidence of leukemia has increased by 41% since 1950. All cancers in this population the ten years before the report rose by 21% and circulatory system diseases rose by 31%. Since doctors were only allowed to issue a few death certificates with cancer and radiation-related illnesses, the true statistics are likely much higher than what’s been reported.

Information about the actual radioisotope levels of the food grown and the dangers of the radioactive contamination of swimming and fishing in river weren’t given to local villagers until the 1990s. Food samples taken in the villages had astonishing levels of radioactivity 1000 times the level allowed in Europe for vegetables and more than double that level in fish.

The U.N. Commission on Human Rights is a world leader in speaking out for the right to a clean and healthy environment for all humans. When human activities cause serious environmental problems, resulting in grave harm to human beings, international, governmental and nongovernmental institutions take steps to address the human rights implications of environmental problems.

In 1992, Movement for Nuclear Safety (MNS), held a conference on the consequences of the nuclear industry, sharing classified health information of the irradiated populations near Mayak in the city of Chelyabinsk and they began to register people affected by nuclear contamination. This group fought for the right for compensation for the damage caused to the health and property by these violations but little money was received.

OSlawomir Grunberg, American film producer, in his documentary, Chelyabinsk: The Most Contaminated Spot on the Planet, warned about the dangers of nuclear power especially when a government values military secrets more than its people. Risking his life and health this Polish immigrant dodged the KGB and exposed the horrors of nuclear contamination bringing the world’s attention to this decimated region where people aren’t expected to live past 50 and 90% of the children have serious health issues. "I did the film out of the conviction that these people need help. If I can show the world their suffering, perhaps something can be done for them."

In 2003, Russia announced that it was shutting down the Mayak reprocessing plant so the facility could be used to store nuclear waste that’s being imported from around the world. Concerned local environmentalists were appalled about having this region become even more of a nuclear waste dump by storing radioactive waste. Identifying viable alternatives to polluting industries would greatly help Chelyabinsk.

After pressure from the international community, in 2004, the Chelyabinsk provincial administration allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to address the consequences of the accidents in the region. The funds were divided to provide healthcare for those who suffered from radiation including their children and grandchildren and to rehabilitate the agriculture of the contaminated regions, but more needs to be done.

Our intention this month is to focus our healing thoughts and prayers on the waters of Lake Karachay and the devastated region surrounding it. Click here to listen to a healing mediation designed specifically for this region. Or to listen to the Pagoda mediation and/or the White Light meditation. The Pagoda meditation practice helps lift the dense energy from an area. It was used to clear the energy around the Gulf of Mexico however it can be used for other areas as well. The White Light mediation can be practiced to help fortify the body to resist radiation.
Mark your calendar for the 4th Sunday of the month from noon to 1:00 to send a wave of healing love around our precious planet dedicated to help heal Lake Karachay as well as the people and land in this region.

The scope of this tragic situation is staggering and it will take time to resolve it. Much work by many will be required to overcome all that needs to be addressed. So this month we invite you to make a concerted effort to bring yourself to do these meditations daily. Nuclear waste isn’t just a local problem because the wind and water currents bring it to us all, so feel free to include other areas of the world that are suffering from nuclear radioactive contamination in your meditation focus. Let’s envision solutions being found and implemented so that these regions and their people can finally return to their original vibrant state of health.

Buckminster Fuller said, "Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value." Harvesting the bonds that join subatomic particles together is a powerful resource, but I don’t know if value can be found in radioactive waste. I do know that Paul Stamets has devised an 8 step plan using mushrooms to pull Cesium 137 out of the contaminated wood.
For more information on this or other resources for this article click on the links below:

The Big Issues

Wentz.net

In Soviet Russia, Lake Contaminates You

Ploughshares.org