a scientific investigation by the Russian and Norwegian governments has found that radioactive contamination from the production of plutonium for the former Soviet Union's nuclear weapons was far higher than was ever believed. Since 1948, the Mayak nuclear complex in the southern Urals has leaked 8900 petabecquerels of radioactive isotopes strontium-90 and casesium-137 into the environment.
The Mayak complex, next to the city now called Ozyorsk in the Chelyabinsk region, was the most important of the Soviet Union' bomb factories. Accidents and deliberate discharges from Mayak have polluted hundreds of lakes, over 200 kilometers of countryside.
More than 16,000 residents have been evacuated from 40 villages since the 1950s. "It is the most radioactive contaminated area in the world," says Per Strand from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority. The Russian scientists say that anyone gong near Lake Karachay for a few hours may suffer from radioactive sickness.
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