The Mayak nuclear plant in the Southern Urals was the Soviet Union's primary nuclear complex built after the Second World War and included a set of plutonium production reactors, fuel production facilities, and reprocessing and waste storage buildings. From the start of its operation, the nuclear plant faced many problems related to the lack of health and safety measures.
On September 29, 1957 one of the Mayak plant’s cooling systems failed and a storage tank with radioactive liquid waste exploded. Out of 270,000 directly affected people, only 11,000 were evacuated, which took more than two years. This nuclear accident was evaluated to be the third in its magnitude after Chernobyl and Fukushima, however it was kept in secret for 20 years.
Namely only in 1976 Zhores Medvedev, a dissident scientist, published his suspicions on what happened in so called “the Kyshtym disaster”. He was expelled from Russia. In order to keep this disaster a secret even its name was a misdirection. Namely, it was not in Kyshtym but in the town of Chelyabinsk-6 (not designated on a map until the mid-1980s, and renamed to Ozyorsk in the early 1990s) where the plant was located. In 1986 an official version of the accident emerged under almost accidental circumstances when the Soviet government included details about it in a report on Chernobyl that was submitted to the United Nations.
Besides pollution from the accident, between 1948 and 1956 radioactive waste from the nuclear plant was poured directly into the Techa River, a source of drinking water for 124,000 people. In addition, the Russian Government has adopted legislation to import spent nuclear fuel from other countries, reprocess and store it permanently in the Mayak plant.
Only in 2008, 50 years after a nuclear waste started to be disposed in the area, Rosatom -the Russian State Nuclear Corporation evacuated some of the affected villages. Rosatom claimed that the Mayak plant stopped dumping radioactive waste in 2004 and that its activities complied with all modern standards and regulations. However, various investigations by environmental NGOs have cast doubt on that claim. In April 2010, a Russian environmental NGO Ecodefense! and 23 residents of Muslyumovo village filed a lawsuit against the Russian government, Rosatom, the Ministries of Civil Defence and of Healthcare and Social Development, demanding from them to recognize the river Techa as a “as liquid radioactive waste” and to build a 240-kilometer sarcophagus over this river. This case is under examination. Environmentalists remain concerned about the safety standards at the Mayak reprocessing plant, particularly as it has doubled its capacity recently.