CHELYABINSK: THE MOST CONTAMINATED SPOT ON THE PLANET

For forty-five years, Chelyabinsk province of Russia was closed to all foreigners.Only in January of 1992 did President Boris Yeltsin sign a decree changing that. Shortly afterwards, I made my first trip to this region, which later Western scientists declared to be the most polluted spot on earth. Read more below.

For forty-five years, Chelyabinsk province of Russia was closed to all foreigners.Only in January of 1992 did President Boris Yeltsin sign a decree changing that. Shortly afterwards, I made my first trip to this region, which later Western scientists declared to be the most polluted spot on earth.

In the late 1940’s, about 80 kilometers north of the city of Chelyabinsk, an atomic weapons complex called “Mayak” was built. Its existence has only recently been acknowledged by Russian officials, though, in fact, the complex, bordered to the west by the Ural Mountains, and to the north by Siberia, was the goal of Gary Powers’s surveillance flight in May of 1960.

The people of the area have suffered no less than three nuclear disasters: For over six years, the Mayak complex systematically dumped radioactive waste into the Techa River, the only source of water for the 24 villages which lined its banks. The four largest of those villages were never evacuated, and only recently have the authorities revealed to the population why they strung barbed wire along the banks of the river some 35 years ago. Russian doctors who study radiation sickness in the area estimate that those living along the Techa River received an average of four times more radiation than the Chernobyl victims.

Produced and Directed by:
Slawomir Grunberg

Photographed and Edited by:
Slawomir Grunberg

Production Assistant:
Robert Rieger

Post Production Assistants:
Lesli La Rocco & Slava Paperno

SCREENINGS

• International Nature and Environment Film Festival, Grenoble, France, 1996

• International Ecological Film Festival “OKOMEDIA”, Frieburg, Germany, 1995

• International Festival of Environmental Films, Paris, France, 1994

• Vermont International Film Festival, Vermont, USA, 1994

• Sinking Creek Film Celebration, Nashville, TN

• “Ambiente-Incontri” Film Festival, Sacile, Italy

AWARDS

• Grand Prix – International Nature and Environment Film Festival, Grenoble, France, 1996.

• Journalistic Achievement Award – International Ecological Film Festival, Frieburg, Germany, 1995

• Reporting Film Award – International Festival of Environmental Films, Paris, France, 1994.

• Best of the Environment Award – Vermont International Film Festival, Vermont, USA, 1994.

• Felissimo Art Award – New York Foundation for the Arts

• Bronze Apple Award – National Educational Media Network

• RVU – Holland, 1998

• Planet Cable -France, 1999

• Channel TF1 – France

• NHK – Japan

• ZWF – Germany

• PTV – Poland

• NOS – Holland

Plutonium and Tritium for Soviet nuclear weapons is produced at three closely guarded locations, each of which includes a “closed” city of workers. These cities do not appear on maps, and until recently, travel to and from them was all but prohibited. Even now, foreign visitors have been allowed to see only two of the sites.Each of the sites has an official name, often including a number that indicates a post office address, but each was known by another name or names abroad as well as in the Soviet Union.

The complex officially known as Chelyabinsk-40 is located in Chelyabinsk province, about 15 kilometers east of the city of Kyshtym on the east side of the southern Urals. It is situated in the area around Lake Kyzyltash, in the upper Techa River drainage basin among numerous other interconnected lakes. Between Lake Kyzyltash and Lake Irtyash is Chelyabinsk-65, the military-industrial city once called Beria, but today inhabitants call it Sorokovka(“forties town”).

Another Mayak laboratory, the All-Union Institute of Technical Physics, is located just east of the Urals, 20 kilometers north of Kasli.It is better known by its post office box, Chelyabinsk-70.It was opened in 1955, shortly after the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory opened in the United States.

The non-profit association ‘Kyshtym-57’ was established in 1990 by the inhabitants of the Chelyabinsk region. At their first conference, 97 people from the 17 populated areas met to discuss the problems. These people are victims of the three nuclear accidents which took place from 1949-1956, 1957, and 1967. Their aim is to realize and support their civil, economic, social, and cultural rights and freedoms.

The executive body of the association is a committee of 21 members who were elected at the conference. The main body of committee members are volunteers, and the association promotes programs which are created by this body. With only 2 employees on staff, this association also has its own bank account.Louiza Korzhova, a retired nuclear physicist, is a founding member of Kyshtym-57 and the chairman of this association.

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