St. Füglister "The Secret Nuclear Accident at Kyshtym / Mayak"
The first nuclear reactor in the Sowjet Union (SU) started operations in 1948. In the Mayak/Kyshtym complex, at the other side of the Ural mountain range, the development of the first Russian nuclear bomb was planned. In 1949 the first batch of plutonium from Mayak was presented to Stalin and shortly afterwards the first nuclear bomb was detonated. Not even ten years later, a serious accident happened and the number of deaths from it is still unknown today.
The «Kyshtym catastrophe» in 1957 is frequently considered as one in a series of civil nuclear accidents. However, this is not quite correct, as contrary to other accidents, e.g. Three Mile Island or Fukushima, neither the complexity of the technology nor an external factor were causes for the catastrophe. Rather the fatal explosion in one of the plutonium tanks was caused by ignorance and deepest human disregard. Technical safety, protection of human life and the environment, had been unconditionally sacrificed in the SU by the race to nuclear rearmament.
In principle, this did not differ from the practice of other nuclear powers, however in its dimension it was way more drastic. Until today, Russia refuses to recognize survivors and their families as victims and to honour their claims.
The lack of complete workup of such events can lead to the reintroduction of human-despising methods in the hands of authoritarian regimes. The critique of both the civil and military use of nuclear energy therefore remains an important and urgent task.