Sonntag, 20. Mai 2012

Mayak: The Forgotten Incident - Interview with Nadezha Kuteopva

For a long time, not much had been know about the 1957 Nuclear incident in Mayak in the Ural Mountains of central Russia. The incident which many scientists have ruled as one of the worst in history continues to cause many problems in the concerned region.

(c) O. Connolly - Nadezha Kutepova during the 2011 Ceremony of the "Nuclear Free Future Award"

I spoke with Nadezha Kutepova, Russian environmentalist, sociologist and lawyer born in Ozersk one of the many cities in the Chelyabinsk region, most affected by the Mayak incident. As founder and director of the "Planeta Nadezhd" (engl. Planet of Hopes) NGO, Nadezha Kutepova has lead many court cases and supported over 100 victims and their families for recognition in the Chelyabinsk region, but also in front of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. She is the laureate of the 2011 "Nuclear Free Future Award". 

The 1957 incident was the first important accident in the Nuclear Age. For nearly 30 years it was covered up by the Soviet Union? What happened in Mayak and how could the USSR cover up this event for so long?
September 29, 1957 underground tank with high level of liquid radioactive waste exploded in Ozersk (former name Chelyabinsk-65), where Mayak nuclear plant is situated. 20 billions curie of radioactivity in atmosphere and area 23 000 was contaminated. Officially, information about accident of 1957 was opened only after Chernobyl accident, the reason is the Soviet Government kept secret because nuclear production was a “state secret”. I know that also US American Government had known information about this accident exactly after the accident. The US Government just began to transform military nuclear program to nuclear energy and NPPs, for them was unprofitable that anybody knows about consequences and will be protest against «safe nuclear energy”. My father was victim of this accident, he lived at Sverdlovsk and was mobilized to do the clean up job after accident aged 18, he had terrible cancer as consequences of clean up job and died from it when I was 13.

You yourself were born in the contaminated area in the Chelyabinsk region. Can you tell us about your experience of growing up in that region? 
From one side it was usual life of usual child in provincial soviet city. I have never known anything about nuclear contamination until 1990 year. When information was opened for publicity. From another side I was born and grow up in closed city – soldiers defended our city with fence with border wires and when I was leaving it during summer vacation – parents always reminded me do not tell anybody from each city I am from for reason of state secret and threat of prison.

Still today many people suffer from the consequences of the incident. What are the problems of the people you support?  How do you help them? 
As human rights lawyer I regularly make legal consultations for people of my region, I identify problems, find ways how to defend them and defend them in different levels, including local or regional authority, local or regional court and also European court of human rights. 

How are officials responding to the efforts of you and your organization? Is there a problem of arbitrariness in the Justice system? 
Ever 2 years ago, me and my NGO had terrible pressure from state and intimidation. Now the situation is a little bit better, I am advisor of regional ombudsman and our region has new and young Government. Problems that occurred are for example if is it defense of human and social rights, it is little bit easier than to defense environmental rights or human right in closed city. But I also have threats from officials for example for our "Techa river case", where we prove contamination of Techa and try to obligate "Rosatom" and Government to build sarcophagus and isolate Techa river because regional Government want to receive huge taxes from Mayak for import of nuclear spent fuel from foreign countries, but our activity about Techa river for opinion of regional Government does not allow for Mayak to take NSF and restricts region of taxes of Mayak. They demand to stop any anti-nuclear activity.  

I can’t to tell that there is problem of arbitrariness in the Justice system, I can say about pressure of officials for Justice System. It looks so – usually court takes law’s position of official party not the side of applicants, it means that law and facts has no meaning for court, only position of officials.

What are the main challenges for the next decade in the Chelyabinsk area?
I can tell about main environmental problems in a summary:

1. Mayak nuclear contamination
2. Karabash steel’s production contamination
3. Chelyabinsk steel’s production contamination l

According to new studies, broken pipes and bad maintenance at the Mayak facility have contaminated probably for many decades the grounds and rivers like the "Tetcha"? Can the real amplitude of Mayak actually be measured?
Yes it is true, Techa is most dirty nuclear river, I think now we can name it "open storage of nuclear waste". I think also we will never know about real amplitude of Mayak, we have only little part opened information. Mayak and "Rosatom" resistances. They hide everything what they can . As, I told above we began court proceeding against Russian government and Rosatom to isolate Techa, because still 3 villages with more than 3000 people live near Techa and use water for every day needs. Court make it very slowly, try by different ways to stop it, but we continue. For example we could receive Judgment of former director of Mayak with dates of Prosecutor that Mayak spilled nuclear waste even in 2004! Earlier "Rosatom" lied that they finished the clean-up work in 1962. If we can do it and will win the case, we can finally to isolate Techa, will move people and create evacuation zone. 

What can I do, or interested people outside of Russia to help the victims of Mayak? Where can we find information and how can we help?
They can help for victims personally or through me or our NGO. One German volunteer created web site, where people can find person for whom they want to help. (the website is still under construction) But 2 kids from this site already received cures, clothes and little money. Also I recommend to use and for receiving more information about Mayak and consequences of it activity. To get to know us, ARTE made a movie about our NGO work:,CmC=3791326.html

Thank you very much for your time.

 Further information and reading:,CmC=3791326.html

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