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Title: Joint US/Russian Studies of Population Exposures Resulting from Nuclear Production Activities in the Southern Urals

Beginning in 1948, the Soviet Union initiated a program for production of nuclear materials for a weapons program. The first facility for production of plutonium was constructed in the central portion of the country east of the southern Ural Mountains, about halfway between the major industrial cities of Ekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk. The facility now known as the Mayak Production Association and its associated town, now known as Ozersk, were built to irradiate uranium in reactors, separate the resulting plutonium in reprocessing plants, and prepare plutonium metal. The rush to production, coupled with inexperience in handling radioactive materials, lead to large radiation exposures, not only to the workers in the facilities, but also to the surrounding public. Fuel processing started with no controls on releases, and fuel dissolution and accidents in reactors resulted in release of about 37 PBq (1015 Bq) of 131I between 1948 and 1967. Designed disposals of low- and intermediate-level liquid radioactive wastes, and accidental releases via cooling water from tank farms of high-level liquid radioactive wastes, into the small Techa River caused significant contamination and exposures to residents of numerous small riverside villages downstream of the site. Discovery of the magnitude of the aquatic contamination in latemore » 1951 caused revisions to the waste handling regimes, but not before over 200 PBq of radionuclides (with large contributions of 90Sr and 137Cs) were released. Liquid wastes were diverted to tiny Lake Karachay (which today holds over 4 EBq); cooling water was stopped in the tank farms. In 1957, one of the tanks in the tank farm overheated and exploded; over 70 PBq, disproportionately 90Sr, was blown over a large area to the northeast of the site; a large area was contaminated and many villages evacuated. This area today is known as the East Urals Radioactive Trace (EURT). Each of these releases was significant; together they have created a group of cohorts unrivaled in the world for their chronic, low-dose-rate radiation exposure. The 26,000 workers at Mayak were highly exposed to external gamma and inhaled plutonium. A cohort of individuals raised as children in Ozersk is under evaluation for their exposures to radioiodine. The Techa River Cohort consists of over 30,000 people who were born before the start of exposure in 1949 and lived along the Techa River. The Techa River Offspring Cohort consists of about 21,000 persons born to one or more exposed parents of this group - many of whom also lived along the contaminated river. The EURT Cohort consists of about 18,000 people who were evacuated from the EURT soon after the 1957 explosion and another 8000 who remained. These groups together are the focus of dose reconstruction and epidemiological studies funded by the US, Russia, and the European Union to address the question “Are doses delivered at low dose rates as effective in producing health effects as the same doses delivered at high dose rates?”« less
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
Journal ID: ISSN 0017-9078; HU2006300; TRN: US1400360
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Health Physics; Journal Volume: 106; Journal Issue: 2
Health Physics Society
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States
63 RADIATION, THERMAL, AND OTHER ENVIRON. POLLUTANT EFFECTS ON LIVING ORGS. AND BIOL. MAT. Joint Coordinating Committee on Radiation Effects Research; Mayak; Techa; dose reconstruction; radiation health effects