– I’m Kento Bento.
– This video is made possible by Brilliant,
a problem-solving website that teaches you to think like a scientist.
Central Russia, 1957.
Villagers near the Southern Ural mountains were scared; they were terrified.
Men claiming to be from the government had appeared,
ordering people to leave their homes.
Without warning, they started burying crops, and slaughtering livestock – their livestock.
没有发出任何警告 他们便开始掩埋庄稼 屠杀家畜
The villagers were in shock; they were confused.
What was going on?
They were being forced away,
but they soon realized it wasn’t just their village,
it was everyone’s village.
And some people looked ill.
The only information given was that there had been an outbreak
of a special disease,
and everyone needed to leave.
But the source of this disease was a mystery.
Was it the river? The lake?
Was it the strange lights people saw in the sky not long ago?
Nothing was revealed. They felt helpless.
Looking back at their village, they were horrified at what they saw.
Their homes were now on fire. Everything was being incinerated.
This happened in 1957,
but what led to this moment actually started 12 years earlier. Hiroshima,
August 6th, 1945, 6000 kilometers away.
The United States detonates a nuclear weapon during the final stage
of World War II.
Many people died, mostly civilians.
Three days later in Nagasaki, it happened again.
These events remain the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare.
The world became acquainted with the nuclear might of America. Now,
this did not sit well with The Soviet Union.
After learning about Japan,
Joseph Stalin decided that their existing nuclear program
was insufficient and needed to be aggressively pursued.
Falling behind the US in the development of nuclear weapons was not an option.
But they first needed a location;
a secret location, hidden from the rest of the world.
They selected a remote area near the southern Ural Mountains,
in Central Russia;
about 1,800 kilometers from Moscow.
For locational reference,
the Ural mountains is widely considered the northern border between Asia and Europe.
This is where they decided to build their first-ever plutonium plant, named Mayak.
From 1945 to 1948, 70,000 gulag inmates from 12 labor camps
were forced into constructing this nuclear facility.
Seven military reactors would eventually line
the southern shore of Lake Kyzyltash,
note though the lake referenced in the title is not this lake.
Pre-Cold War tensions were mounting,
so all this was done in a great hurry and in total secrecy.
After construction, the plant immediately began processing and weaponizing plutonium,
with their greatest success coming in the form
of their first plutonium bomb, named First Lightning,
which was detonated in 1949.
But now, along with this secret facility,
there was a need for a secret city;
where all the nuclear scientists, workers, and their families, could live.
And so, the secret city of Chelyabinsk 40 was born,
Chelyabinsk being the name of the nearest big city, and 40,
the last digits of the postal code.
This place was also colloquially known as City 40.
Reinforced by barbed wire fences and guarded gates,
no one was allowed to enter or leave this city.
Residents were forbidden to send letters or to make contact with the outside world.
For decades, this closed city
of 100,000 people did not appear on any of the Soviet maps,
and the identities of the inhabitants were erased from the official Soviet records.
Those who had been relocated to City 40,
by order of the Soviet Party, were considered
missing by their relatives back home.
And mercilessly, if anyone refused to work at Mayak –
to live in the secret city –
they would be taken to a prison camp and executed.
After all, by that time they would
have already been introduced to state secrets.
City 40 is actually one of 44 known closed cities in Russia,
probably the most prominent of them all,
but it’s important to note
that the Soviet Union did not come up with the idea.
The concept of closed cities surrounding secret nuclear facilities was stolen
from the United States,
when Stalin’s spies intercepted plans for the Hanford nuclear plant,
which the secret city of Richland, Washington was built around.
Note the Hanford nuclear plant had manufactured the
plutonium that was used in the atomic bomb over Nagasaki.
It wasn’t just the idea
of closed cities that was taken from the US,
but much of the nuclear research and knowledge was gained directly
from Soviet spy rings working in the Manhattan Project.
As a result there were massive gaps
in the Soviet physicists’ knowledge about nuclear physics,
which was really, really bad when it came to safety.
Workers were not protected, environmental concerns were not taken seriously; and,
shockingly, people were handling plutonium with their bare hands.
They didn’t know any better.
Now,a system was set up.
Water from the nearby Lake Kyzyltash and Techa
River was used to cool the nuclear reactors,
to prevent overheating – but there was a problem.
They had implemented an open-cycle cooling system,
where the water was circulating directly through the reactor core,
which meant contaminated water was being
discharged directly back into the lake and river,
the same lake children played in every summer,
and the same river used as drinking water by the locals.
And we’re not just talking
about the residents of City 40 here,
but also the numerous villages along the Techa who were dependent
on the river as a water source:
40 villages in total, with about 28,000 people.
But it gets worse.
Mayak had a storage problem.
They didn’t know what to do with their highly-contaminated radioactive waste.
They tried storing them in underground tanks for a while,
but the upkeep was inconvenient for them;
as the tanks needed to be constantly cooled to prevent self-overheating.
So what did they do?
They straight dumped the radioactive waste in the various bodies of water around Mayak.
This included further contamination of the Techa River, which,
important to note, connects to the river Ob,
which flows into the Arctic Ocean, but,
not only that, the surrounding lakes became toxic reservoirs.
We already know about the contamination of Lake Kyzyltash,
but this lake in particular, Lake Irtyash,
over time accumulated so much radioactive waste
it became known to the locals as The Plutonium Lake,
or The Lake of Death.
Now here’s the thing.
Neither of these lakes is the lake referenced in the title;
which means there is a lake more deadly than even the Lake of Death.
And it’s this one. Lake Karachay.
A baby compared to the others, but packing a punch,
a radioactive punch. Sure,
many of the surrounding lakes became regular dumping grounds
for highly-contaminated radioactive waste,
but the dumping that took place at Karachay was next level.
The combination of the proximity to Mayak,
the fewer lakeside residents, and the more diminutive size of the lake,
made this a convenient and seemingly less risky option for open-air storage.
As such, significantly large amounts of solid,
liquid and gaseous radioactive material
was constantly released into Karachay; more so than other lakes.
With all this dumping,
the people at Mayak ended up neglecting the underground storage tanks from earlier;
which was not cool. No,
because the high level of radioactivity meant that the waste was heating itself through decay heat.
In other words, pressure was building. Sure,
换句话说 气压在逐步累积 当然
they had a cooling system in place;
but it was a pretty crappy cooling system,
and it was poorly maintained.
It was just a matter of time until – well,
September 29th, 1957.
The cooling system for the storage tanks failed.
A tank containing 80 tons of liquid radioactive waste
exploded with an estimated force of up to a 100 tons of TNT.
90 % of radioactive material released was deposited
within the vicinity of Mayak and City 40,
but the remaining 10 % formed a radioactive
cloud reaching a height of one kilometer.
The next 10 hours saw it drift northeasterly,
causing widespread contamination over hundreds of kilometers
This was the Kyshtym Disaster; one of the worst nuclear accidents in history.
The event was eventually categorized as a Level Six Serious Accident
on the International Nuclear Events Scale.
Only two incidents in history have been more severe:
Chernobyl and Fukushima, at Level Seven. However,
切尔诺贝利和福岛 它们是七级的安全事故 无论如何
in terms of the number
of cases of acute radiation sickness,
the Kyshtym Disaster was actually four times worse than Chernobyl.
Due to the secrecy surrounding Mayak,
the communities in the nearby affected areas were not immediately informed of the accident. Shockingly,
it wasn’t until a week later that the evacuation process started;
and really only for the communities closest to the contamination site.
Understandably the affected villagers were frightened by the sudden appearance of soldiers.
They were ordered to leave their homes.
Their crops were buried; their livestock was slaughtered.
Shock and confusion rang out as they were being forced away.
Some villagers showed visible signs of radiation poisoning,
but since the Mayak facility wasn’t supposed to exist,
the soldiers were not allowed to reveal the truth of the situation –
that it was radiological in nature.
Instead the villagers were told
that there was an outbreak of a special disease,
one that was unknown and mysterious even to them,
and they needed to leave.
Some suspected it was related to the strange
lights people saw in the sky not long ago,
but they weren’t sure.
After the initial evacuation phase,
the abandoned homes and infrastructures had to be destroyed,
much to the dismay of residents. All-in-all,
at least 23 villages were incinerated. Yes,
some were evacuated after a week,
but it took up to 11 years for all residents
in the wider affected areas to be evacuated.
In total, almost half a million people were exposed to radiation,
there was sickness and death,
and much of the surrounding land was left barren and unusable for,
并且周边土地变得贫瘠 不能耕种 要持续
With Mayak being a secret facility,
the Soviet Union had to deny the catastrophe ever happened.
Add to that the fear of international condemnation,
which is why most people today tend to be
aware of Chernobyl, and Fukushima, as some
of the worst nuclear accidents in history,
even the Three Mile Island Incident;
but not so much The Kyshtym Disaster, despite being comparable,
if not worse, in many ways. Right,
but back to the lake.
Because Lake Karachay wasn’t about to be upstaged by the Kyshtym Disaster.
This lake accumulated 4.4 exabecquerels of radioactivity over time,
which isn’t quite to the level
of the radioactivity released from Chernobyl,
but if we were to break down the caesium-137 from each,
which is the radioactive isotope that contributes to land contamination (the rest is too short-lived),
Karachay ends up being significantly worse,
at 3.6 exabecquerels compared to Chernobyl’s 0.085.
There’s a few ways to interpret this,
but you can say Lake Karachay is
arguably the most polluted place on earth.
Really bad – but at least, by the 1960s,
the lake was drying up; it was disappearing.
The threat seemed to be lessening with each passing year.
In 1967, a drought hit the region,
lowering Lake Karachay’s water-level even further,
to the point where much of the lakebed was exposed.
This was seemingly good.
Except that it wasn’t,
because the previously-submerged toxic sediment was now exposed to the harsh sunlight.
It was drying out and forming dust.
Deadly radioactive dust.
And all that was needed was a strong gust
of wind and yet another horrifying disaster. Well,
they didn’t get a strong gust of wind.
They got something far worse: a violent windstorm, scattering across the region.
Once again, half a million people were irradiated.
The government finally had enough,
they piled 10,000 concrete blocks on top of the lake,
preventing sediments from shifting and burying the remaining water under cement.
It wasn’t until 1989 onwards
that the Soviet Government declassified documents relating to the radiological disasters in the Southern Urals,
and the whole world finally found out about Lake Karachay,
the Mayak nuclear facility, the Techa River,
and the secret city of Chelyabinsk 40, or City 40. Interestingly,
秘密城市车里雅宾斯科-40 或者说第40号城市的真相 有趣的是
it was later revealed
that the CIA actually knew about Mayak,
and some of its major incidents, since 1957,
and had decided to keep it a secret to not cause concern
among people living near nuclear facilities in the US.
Which means, yes,
the CIA actually helped the Soviet Union keep its early nuclear catastrophes a secret. Now,
after the Soviet collapse,
the Russian government officially recognized their secret cities as legitimate places on the map.
City 40 was able to get legal status in 1994,
and was renamed the city of Ozersk,
though still with barbed wire fences and guarded gates.
It’s still heavily restricted and extremely secretive,
but if you’re somehow able to get in,
you’d be treated to picturesque scenery and beautiful lakes.
You’d see mothers pushing newborns in prams, children playing in the streets,
local women selling fresh fruit and vegetables;
much of it resembling a suburban American town from the 1950’s,
but if you look closely, you’d see a different reality.
The Ozersk residents know the truth;
their food is poisoned,
their water is contaminated, their children are sick,
and much of their picturesque surroundings remain no-go zones.
The seemingly pristine lakes beg for a swim,
but standing even lakeside at Lake Karachay
would give you a sufficiently lethal dose of radiation in only an hour.
Imagine if you were to swim in it.
On average, in Ozersk,
you can expect to live to the age of 50,
comparable to countries with the lowest life expectancy rates.
This all could have been avoided,
of course, if scientists working at Mayak, all those years ago,
当然 如果科学家们在马亚克工作 这么多年过去了
had at least the basic understanding of the physics of nuclear energy,
and the processes involved with chain reactions. Unfortunately,
Brilliant didn’t exist in 1957,
so they maybe they have an excuse,
but fast forward 60 years and you don’t –
because it’s right here.
Brilliant is a problem-solving website that
teaches you to think like a scientist,
through interactive quizzes and courses that are designed to be interesting.
You can see there are many courses you can choose from,
but if you want to be a nuclear physicist,
and I mean a good one,
that hopefully won’t cause the next Kyshtym disaster,
then Brilliant will help you understand concepts like the difference
between the types of nuclear reaction,
how a chain reaction can be used to generate electricity,
and if in fact every chain reaction results in an explosion.
We love explaining about Asia and the world around us,
but the best way to learn is obviously by doing it yourself.
And much like our videos, what Brilliant does is
it takes a problem, breaks them up into bite-sized concepts,
presents clear logic in each part,
and then builds back up to an exciting conclusion.
If you go to brilliant.org/kentobento, you can get started for free,
and if you’re one
of the first 200 people to sign up with the link below,
you will receive 20% off your premium subscription.
It’s an incredibly engaging website, we use it!
And by giving Brilliant a try,
you will also be supporting us here at Kento Bento.
– I’m Kento Bento.