On the 60th anniversary of the third worst nuclear disaster in history, people are still suffering and critics are being silenced. The message is clear: The world needs clean community-led energy, not more nuclear industry impunity.

Today marks 60 years since the Kyshtym nuclear disaster in Soviet Russia.

On 29 September 1957, a liquid waste storage container at the Mayak plutonium plant in Ozersk, Chelyabinsk region, south of the Ural mountains, exploded and released 20 million Curie units of radioactivity. Within 10 hours, radioactive clouds spread over more than 20,000 square kilometers of the Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk and Tyumen regions.

Conscript soldiers and even schoolchildren were involved in the clean-up of the accident area. Exposure standards were violated and maximum exposure limits were sufficiently exceeded. Many clean-up workers faced lethal radiation doses of more than 100 Roentgen.

The Kyshtym disaster is the third worst nuclear disaster in history, reaching Level 6 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) after Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine and Fukushima in Japan (both at Level 7).

After the accident, 248 villages were resettled from the Techa River area. Officially, more than 500, 000 people were exposed to radiation, not including military personnel. A lot of affected people still remain in contaminated areas, without recognition of or proper compensation for the violations of their rights.

Shockingly, Mayak is still in operation today as a reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel from nuclear plants and nuclear heritage sites across Russia.

Moreover, despite these disasters, the Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom is allowed to continue its devastation across the world unimpeded. It wants to both build dozens of nuclear reactors in Russia and to export its deadly nuclear technologies to other countries.

One such nuclear power plant under construction is the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Bangladesh. The Russia-Bangladesh nuclear agreement says that spent nuclear fuel from the plant must be returned to Russia and will likely end up in Mayak.

The people of Kyshtym and neighbouring areas will continue to pay with their lives for this dangerous form of energy. The people of Bangladesh also deserve clean community led renewable energy – not this nuclear energy project.

“Local people continue to endure the never-ending tragedy of Kyshtym. Rosatom’s nuclear deals with foreign countries will only bring more dangerous waste back to the homes of local people and increase the nuclear threat.”

Vitaly Servetnik, co-chair of Russian Social-Ecological Union/ Friends of the Earth Russia

“Nuclear energy is risky for Bangladesh – a country that cannot even deal with its municipal waste. We share the worries and concerns of our friends in Russia, and vow to work together to dismantle undue powers of corporations. The energy path for Bangladesh is clear: We must not invest in deadly nuclear, but in clean energy that is owned and controlled by communities.”

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chair of The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA)/ Friends of the Earth Bangladesh

But even criticizing the activities of Rosatom poses a serious risk.

NGOs and activists most critical of the corporation’s activities in Russia are being labelled ‘Foreign Agents’, threatened and pushed out of the country.

This law aims to marginalize, defame and shut down critical environmental voices. Since 2013 the law has targeted 160 NGOs in Russia, 31 of whom are environmental groups of which at least one third were engaged in anti-nuclear work. Fifteen of the 31 environmental groups that were targeted have been closed down because of this unjust law, and more are facing the same fate.

Nadezhda Kutepova, an environmental human rights defender from Ozersk, has worked for many years in support of the victims. She was one of the most critical voices against Rosatom. After her group received the Foreign Agent label, she faced threats and risk of criminal prosecution for espionage and had to flee the country for the safety of her three children.

Rosatom, along with other nuclear corporations, is now trying to promote nuclear energy as a low-carbon solution at the UN climate negotiations. This is a false solution to climate change, as the entire lifecycle of the plant relies on carbon emissions and carries other risks that result in human rights violations, including the silencing of critical voices of environmental and human rights defenders.

Nuclear energy creates more problems than solutions due to copious amounts of lasting nuclear waste, carrying risks for people and environment.

Friends of the Earth International joins Friends of the Earth Russia and many other Friends of the Earth groups across the world to demand a nuclear-free future:

  • We demand that Rosatom stop all new nuclear projects in Russia and elsewhere.
  • We demand that the Russian government stop subsidies to the nuclear industry and instead move public investment to social issues, to victims of the nuclear industry and to renewable energy solutions.
  • We call on the Russian government to protect its people, to respect universal human rights and to continue to support the world-wide negotiations for a UN treaty for transnational corporations and human rights to stop corporate abuses and human rights violations, including of the rights of environmental defenders.
  • We demand nuclear-free climate deals and protection for the environmental defenders critic of Rosatom’s policies.
  • We demand justice for those whose lives will never be the same because of nuclear disasters and of other corporate crimes.

Watch: ‘Wasteland’, a documentary about the environmental consequences of the Mayak plant. 

Image: A radioactive hazard sign warns passers-by entering a forest near the Mayak nuclear plant, Chelyabinsk region. Gennady Shabarin/ Green World (2009)