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Russia Marks 50th Anniversary Of Mayak Nuclear Blast

An undated picture of swans swimming near the Mayak nuclear complex ( Greenpeace/Knoth) September 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Today marks the 50th anniversary of the world's second-largest nuclear accident -- the blast at Russia's Mayak nuclear complex, near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk east of the Ural Mountains.

An explosion on September 29, 1957, contaminated an area of 23,000 square kilometers and exposed more than 270,000 people to significant levels of radiation.

It was not until the glasnost era that local residents learned officially about the blast.

The environmental group Greenpeace Russia was to join Chelyabinsk residents in a rally today to call for the relocation of people still living in contaminated areas.

The group has also issued a report criticizing plans by the Russian government to import and reprocess foreign radioactive waste at the Mayak site.

Mayak, which in Russian means "beacon," was secretly built in the late 1940s to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Today, it is the country's largest plant reprocessing nuclear fuel from decommissioned weapons and waste from nuclear reactors.

The Mayak complex is blamed for contaminating the nearby Techa River, the area's only source of drinking water.

The region records high incidences of cancer, sterility, heart diseases, and asthma. But authorities have consistently refused to close down the facility.

Russia plans to build 40 new nuclear reactors in the country by 2030, and hopes to build as many as 60 additional reactors for clients abroad.

A Checkered Past

A Checkered Past

Local resident Ramzis Fayzullin is a modern-day victim of the Mayak disaster. (Greenpeace/Knoth)

IN THE SHADOW OF MAYAK: Russia has said it has no plans to shut down Mayak, the country's biggest reprocessor of spent nuclear fuel. The plant, located just east of the Ural mountains in Russia's Chelyabinsk Oblast, is considered to be the site of some of the worst radioactive contamination on Earth.

Mayak was created in the 1940s as the heart of the Soviet Union's nuclear program. But today the territory around the plant is a wasteland, with generations of residents suffering from sterility, cancer, asthma, and other illnesses....(more)

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