Kyshtym Disaster and the Mayak plutonium plant, Russia

Nuclear waste tank explosion in 1957 and decades-long radioactive contamination made Mayak one of the most radioactive places on Earth


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.

See more...
Basic Data
NameKyshtym Disaster and the Mayak plutonium plant, Russia
CountryRussian Federation
ProvinceChelyabinsk oblast
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Nuclear
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Nuclear waste storage
Nuclear power plants
Specific CommoditiesPlutonium, nuclear waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe first accident occurred in 1953, when several workers developed radiation sickness, however it went unreported.

An amount equal to more than half the amount of radioactive waste released by the accident in Chernobyl was blasted into the atmosphere during the explosion in the Mayak plant.

The radioactive plume from the Mayak explosion was 50 kilometers wide and 1,000 kilometers long.

In addition to the Techa River, lakes of West Siberia, such as Lake Karachai were polluted by radioactive material from the plant.

Mayak plant is reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from VVER-440 type reactors and nuclear submarines. The foreign fuel processed in Mayak so far has led to some 3,000,000 m3 of radioactive liquid being released into the environment. Mayak has reprocessed over 1,540 tons of spent nuclear fuel from Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and the Czech Republic, while Russian authorities negotiate with Switzerland, Spain, South Korea, Slovenia, Italy, Belgium, and Slovakia.

Around 7,000 people still live near the Techa River or on surrounding contaminated land.
Project Area (in hectares)2,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population272,000 - 400,000
Start Date1976
Company Names or State EnterprisesRosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) from Russian Federation
Relevant government actorsThe Russian Federation government, The Russian State Nuclear Corporation - Rosatom, The Ministry of Civil Defense, Emergencies and Disaster Relief, and The Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGreenpeace International and Russia; Ecodefense!; Planet of Hopes (Planeta Nadezh)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Air pollution
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
OtherGenetic abnormalities and miscarriages, acute myeloid leukemia and other types of cancer, radiation sickness and amputations due to radiation burns
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Development of AlternativesThe NGOs and local residents demanded that the river Techa be recognized as a “site of storage of radioactive waste” and protected with a sarcophagus.

In 2008, Rosatom evacuated some of the affected villages, while many decided not to exchange their family houses with small apartments offered by the government.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The Mayak nuclear waste reprocessing plant is in operation and has doubled its capacity recently. Environmentalists remain concerned about the safety standards applied in the plant.
Sources and Materials

Mayak: A 50-Year Tragedy
[click to view]

ROSATOM’S MAYAK: more reprocessing, more contamination
[click to view]


The Kyshtym Disaster
[click to view]

First load of nuclear waste from Andreeva Bay arrives in Mayak
[click to view]

The second biggest nuclear disaster in history
[click to view]

Mayak: A 50-year tragedy
[click to view]

Nuclear History – the forgotten disasters
[click to view]

Mayak Plant Exposes Thousands To Harmful Radiation
[click to view]

The Kyshtym Disaster: The Largest Nuclear Disaster You've Never Heard Of
[click to view]

1957 - Ozyorsk, Russia - Kyshtym Mayak Nuclear Waste Reprocessing Center - Chelyabinsk
[click to view]

Media Links

Greenpeace International video for the 60th anniversary of the explosion in Mayak
[click to view]

Other Documents

Greenpeace poster on the Mayak catastrophe "The people around Mayak have seen Rosatom's real face"
[click to view]

A radiation sign at the Techa River's edge The continuous pollution form the Mayak plant transformed the river Techa in a “as liquid radioactive waste”
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorJovanka Spiric, Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental (CIGA) - Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), vankajo(at)
Last update06/11/2017