Monday, September 14, 2009

Long Lost Bother's 10 Scariest Ghost Towns #3

Mayak, Russia

Where is it?

Near the town of Kyshtym, deep in the Ural mountains of Russia.

Hey, where did everybody go?

Running on a theme from last entry, here’s another cautionary tale on being really, really careful with atomic power. In this case, the Mayak facility was built to produce nuclear weapons for the Soviets to point angrily at North America in the early Cold War. And it was built to do so quickly and cheaply. Warning lights going off yet? Well initially, the Mayak complex happily dumped all its radioactive waste byproducts into the nearest river, until someone had the bright idea of putting in storage tanks. Great idea, right? Way better than risking gigantic mutant beavers storming up from downriver. Except when one of the tanks exploded, hurling the waste in a 350km radius.

10,000 people were quickly evacuated from Mayak. And by quickly, I mean after around 200 people literally melted from the insane level of radioactivity. In an actual quote from journalist Richard Pollock, “…victims were seen with skin 'sloughing off' their faces, hands and other exposed parts of their bodies”

Why it’s scary as hell

All this happened in 1957, but nobody knew about it for decades afterwards. Think about that. The Soviet government successfully covered up the close second- or worst (depending on your scale of worseness) nuclear disaster in history for almost 30 years. How awesome at secret-keeping would a government have to be to pull this shit off? The US government couldn’t even keep a blanket on their secret project at Area 51 (the Lockheed Blackbird, dumbass, not whatever you’re imagining right now) for more than a few years, and the Russians could keep Mayak under their hat for long enough that it was barely news anymore when the truth finally came out. Which begs the question, why didn’t the Russians fake a moon landing? They clearly had the balls to pull it off.

I’ll leave you with just one more chilling fact. After dissident Russian scientist Zhores Medvedev blew the whistle on the Mayak/Kyshtym disaster, the almost-complete documentation on the event wouldn’t see the light until the collapse of the Soviet empire. But even then, a few details remain classified by the Russian government, and one of those details is just what happened to the evacuees. Could this mean there are currently 10,000 radioactive zombies prowling the Urals to this day? I’ll leave that one up to you guys.

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