Long before Chernobyl, it was suspected, without proof, that the Soviet Union had a disastrous record in terms of safety and nuclear environment. It was not because of a lack of Soviet engineers and physicists knowhow who realized prowess to develop their own nuclear expertise.
At the time of the five-year plans, it was sincerely believed that science and technology would allow humans to do everything. There was the idea of using nuclear power to realize titanic work. In Siberia rivers were diverted, with atomic blasts, to irrigate cotton fields, with the consequence to dry the Aral Sea.
In the 1950s nuclear technology was yet fully developed and there was little knowledge - especially in Russia - about the future of radioactive waste in natural ecosystems and their effects on humans. Therefore, efforts to prevent the spread of radioactivity in the environment were inadequate.
The most serious incidents occurred at the site of Mayak, near Ekaterinburg, whose surroundings were severely contaminated with relatively long-lived radionuclides such as cesium-137 and strontium-90.
This site of Mayak was the first nuclear complex of the Soviet Union, built in the southern Urals after the war, for the manufacture of plutonium for military purposes.
The Techa River accident was the one involving the greatest number of people exposed to doses exceeding 50 mSv and for which the study is the most advanced. A significant impact of radiation on the population was observed.
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