In the history of nuclear disasters, it’s easy to forget that a radioactive explosion back in 1957 near an obscure village with an unpronounceable name in the Ural Mountains was the true original.
And while engineering heroics have finally been brought to bear on the smoldering sarcophagus at Chernobyl, and robots troll the wreckage of Fukushima, this catastrophe by many accounts continues to churn radioactivity into the environment and to sicken a hostage population.
None of us were ever supposed to know anything about it, and if not for a series of untimely revelations, we probably still wouldn’t.
It’s called the Kyshtym disaster and before the mid 1980s the town’s official location wasn’t even designated on a map. Only the diseased winds blowing north in the aftermath gave any indication it was there.
In the early morning hours of September 29, 60 years ago, a tank containing nuclear weapons waste exploded on the grounds of the Mayak Chemical Combine, Russia’s primary spent nuclear fuel reprocessing center, which is still in operation.
The fallout coated more than 200 towns and villages and exposed 272,000 people, a small portion of which were quietly evacuated over the subsequent two years, to radiation.