The Russian city that hides a mysterious secret

At first glance, it looks like a rather attractive city to visit, with spectacular parks and lakes and a clean, modern design.

Yet this Russian city that has been kept a secret for decades is far from ordinary.

Code name City 40, Ozersk is located near Mayak in Chelyabinsk Oblast. Its population was last recorded at 82,164 in 2002.

In 1947, the Soviets decided they had to build a secret city where they could develop nuclear weapons at the start of the Cold War.

Nowadays, it is best known for its radiation pollution and has earned the title of “Earth Cemetery” because it is one of the most contaminated places in the world.

The city was for decades surrounded by guards and barbed wire. Oddly, locals weren’t allowed to talk about the city, and even Russian citizens weren’t allowed to enter.

It just didn’t exist on any map until the fall of the Soviet Union.

American professor of radiobiology Scott Miller of Utah was one of a handful of people who regularly visit the region, deep in the Ural Mountains.

“It’s the kind of place where if you went there for an afternoon picnic you’d be dead,” he said.

“It’s so radioactive. Or you would need a bone marrow transplant.

“I’ve been there twice, but it’s the kind of place you go by really fast.”

Ozersk looks picturesque. Photo / WikiCommons

He wrote an article explaining its history and noted that the city’s nuclear waste was disposed of with negligence. And in 1957, the Kyshtym disaster struck, where a storage tank exploded and a radiation cloud contaminated 52,000 square kilometers of land.

It was the third worst nuclear disaster, after Chernobyl and Fukushima.

However, the Soviets denied it for decades and then dumped garbage in nearby Lake Karachay. In 1967, a drought exposed the sediments to winds, spreading toxic dust over the cities.

Professor Kate Brown, author of Plutopia: nuclear families, atomic cities and great Soviet and American plutonium catastrophes, said what happened there was an “idle disaster” that spanned decades and was hushed up by the government.

She also said residents were in fact considered lucky by outsiders, dubbing Ozersk “plutopia”, a seemingly classless community, in which to become a resident “was like winning the golden ticket.”

“Plutonium towns were wonderful places to live and people loved them,” Professor Brown said in an interview with the Columbian College History News Network.

“They offered wonderful opportunities because not only was the accommodation very cheap and the wages very good, but the schools were good.”

So they sacrificed their freedoms for what seemed like a good deal.

There was also a documentary on Ozersk named City 40 which came out in 2016 and was nominated for an Emmy Award. He explored the lives of residents.

“To keep these people – they weren’t going to escape anyway – but just to make sure they’re happy to be there, [the government] created a paradise for them, ”said director Samira Goetschel, who had access to the Forbidden City.

“So they had everything they maybe needed and more compared to the outside world where they had absolutely nothing. And they weren’t placed on any map, they were a state within a state.

“Their identities were erased. They didn’t exist outside of town. And to me, it was basically like I had stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone.

It looks like a rather inviting city to visit, with spectacular parks and lakes and a clean, modern design. Yet this Russian city kept secret for decades is far from the ordinary

“There is a specific and beautiful lake that is so contaminated with plutonium that it is actually called the plutonium lake by the locals themselves… The cancer rate is huge and their children are being born with cancer.

“They are dying of cancer.”

Today, Ozersk is a reprocessing site for used radioactive fuel, but radioactive pollution remains a threat to residents.

Residents are now free to leave.

– by Kate Schneider,

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