Civic Issues – Lake Karachay

At one point Lake Karachay was considered one of the most polluted areas on Earth. In 1990 standing on the lake’s shores for just an hour would kill you, from exposure to such extreme radiation. Now this lake was not naturally full of radiation, we have the Mayak Production Association to thank. Mayak was a huge nuclear facility in Russia. For years this association was kept from the public’s knowledge, and for good reasons too (well not such good reasons, but reasons that were good for the company). This facility had multiple radioactive leaks and constantly dumped its waste into Lake Karachay. These mistakes effects thousands of people and the environment around them.

The drastic increase in radioactive levels caused, “a 21 percent increase in cancer incidence, a 25 percent increase in birth defects, and a 41 percent increase in leukemia in the surrounding region of Chelyabinsk” ( The towns and villages surrounding the area of the lake were almost destroyed because of the radiation. The Techa river, which got its water from Lake Karachay, was the source of water to many towns in the area. People were becoming severely ill, and when they ask the doctors they could not give them a true diagnosis, because the Mayak, which was the source of radiation was not public knowledge.

Like I mentioned before the company had multiple leaks and accidents. One accident caused the lake to dry up, and radioactive dust entered the air to spread the poison even further than it already had. Many people were finally evacuated after this but still too many were left to die from inhaling the radioactive air.

Finally in 2003 Mayak was shut down due to dumping radioactive waster into open water. The lake is now full of cement to prevent anymore damage to the surrounding environment. Techa river near the lake is still unsafe to consume, but there are improvements in the water more downstream in the river.

The things companies do and governments allow baffles me every day. The thing that surprised me the most was that the citizens in the nearby towns were completely unaware that they had a toxic dumping site in their backyard. Radiation causes damages to populations that last many generations. I read a book once where this same thing happened, and because the townspeople were exposed to so much radiation without knowing it, the women in the town became unable to carry children, it was a miracle if any child was born in that town. This disaster caused the town to collapse and die out.

I’m afraid that the same thing is happening to the towns near Lake Karachay, even generations later there are still mutations and rare diseases occurring in the town that cause great suffering. Those people had the right to know what was happening so close to them, because my guess would be that most of them would not have stayed. Yes that would have caused the towns to collapse, but they weren’t even on the map anyway at that time because the secret of the company would have been exposed if they had been. It would have been better if the people were given a chance to leave the dangers conditions, instead of unknowingly be poisoned all their lives.

Or even better yet, radioactive facilities should not be near enough to a population to have an effect on them. It was foolish for Mayak to locate itself in such close proximity to so many towns, and it was even more foolish of them to dump their wastes into the lakes and rivers causing even more damage. The fact the Russia had to completely destroy a lake, and entire ecosystem, to prevent further damage is disheartening. So many animals and plants lived in that area and now have no means of fresh, uncontaminated water. Where there use to be lush forest and thriving organism, there is now a cement filler whole with little life around it.

5 thoughts on “Civic Issues – Lake Karachay

  1. Boyoung Kim

    Oh my, this is all terrible to hear. I had no idea this was all happening.
    After the earthquake in Japan and the nuclear plants in Japan had a lot of leaking, my mom was freaking out. She didn’t let me eat anything from Japan. I guess she wasn’t lying when she said that it wasn’t good for me.
    It is really unfortunate. The defects and the diseases will definitely last a while.
    As we discuss advocacy in class, this is a relevant issue. Lobbyists, especially from big companies, have so much political leverage. They convince policy makers of regulations that would be favorable for their profit, highlighting the economic benefits and basically all the non-environmental benefits of their productions. It usually works, which is why all these environmental issues are taking place. It’s the unfortunate truth.

  2. Patrick Duggan

    I cannot believe that such nuclear plants are so greedy as to put their own economic interests above the health of the public. Even worse is the fact that the people in the surrounding area didn’t even know that Mayak was dumping the waste into the lake. I believe that they have the right to know and should be informed of the risks of living in the vicinities. Also, nuclear power plants should be required to have plans for the disposal of their waste that goes far beyond simply dumping it into the environment. They need to have storage facilities that protects the surrounding area from damage. I do believe that nuclear energy is going to play an important part in the future of sustainability but it is the actions of companies and organizations like Mayak that make people question nuclear energy.

  3. Mikaela Hermstedt

    Things like this always amaze me. It seems like out of a large population of people in the area somebody should realize that something is going on and should work to track it down or convince somebody to realize the problem. For some reason, people/companies can get away with a lot and I have never understood why. I don’t see why people think that what they do to the environment won’t affect them. They are living here too, it is going o make a difference in their lives as well. I don’t know what the answer is, but something should change and people should become more respectful and caring about the environment.

  4. Lauren Harrington

    The worst part is that people are so unaware of it. I wonder, do they just not care to know? Or has nobody told them? Their lives are suffering and there is almost nothing they can do about it. In cases like these, it is the governments job to step in and regulate effectively. There is only so much that people can do individually. It is the governments job to take care of the people that give it legitimacy. It is a huge injustice to these people by, basically killing them, and not letting them do anything about it. Companies are so money oriented that they forget to care about the people they are hurting. It should not get to such extreme points that entire cities have to be shut down.

  5. Emma Shellhamer

    This is so disgusting. I’m in an “Energy and the Environment” class right now and one of our largest discussion has been about why nuclear power isn’t as grand as everyone may think. There is NO way to dispose of nuclear waste, and if more nuclear plants were to pop up across the globe, we would end up with thousands of pounds of waste that’s toxic and must sit for 1,000,000 years before it’s safe to be around. 1,000,000 years. And we have nowhere to put it all! Your post was really poignant in that it reveals how detrimental nuclear power can be to our world.
    You also pointed out how the people in the town close by had no idea what was going on. In a way, I feel like that’s even worse than simply dumping waste into a river. So many people have, and are going to, suffer from this failure on the government’s part to allow them the freedom to leave the area if they so chose. If this happened in the US, you can bet there would have been lawsuit after lawsuit about this, because allowing that to happen to your own people is the exact opposite of what governments should be doing.

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