Muslyumovo: A look inside

A radiation warning sign near Mayak. (Photo: Bellona)
Bellona Archive

Publish date: January 15, 2008

Written by: Yelena Yefremova

MUSLYUMOVO, Southwestern Siberia - At the end of October the minister of atomic energy, Sergei Kiriyenko, finally paid a visit to Chelyabinsk Region. His visit was expected in August, but he arrived at the Mayak Chemical Combine, Russia’s beleaguered nuclear reprocessing facility, only after the latest in a series of incidents - this one involving a radioactive waste spill.

The main goal of Kiriyenko’s visit however, was to announce the government decision to the Yuzhnoural Nulcear Power Plant. Who knows how this experiment will turn out, especially since hundreds of people are still suffering from the effects of Mayak. Attempts to resolve these grievances through resettlement have not gone as planned; only a fraction of the remaining victims have moved to the new dwellings being constructed on the opposite bank of the radioactive Techa River.

The usual radiation

One of Mysyumovo’s former inhabitants agreed to take me there: “Only don’t act like a journalist––that way they won’t say anything” she advised. “Over the years they’ve grown tired of journalists. They come, take photographs, accept fees, and no good ever comes of it!”

From Chelyabinska we travel along the M5 towards YEkaterinberg. In about 40 kilometers we’ll turn onto the highway; from there its twenty kilometers to Myslyumovo. My guide explains, “This road was built in preparation for (former president Boris)Yeltsin’s visit. Before, you had to go through Kunashak (the regional center). He came, told us we had to resettle, and left. We didn’t resettle, and the road remained – meaning he came for nothing.”

At the very entrance to the town is a tree-lined walk, which serves to commemorate the victims of radiation. If not for the threatening yellow-black sign, you’d have no reason to guess you were entering a contaminated area. It’s just like any other village; there are no two-headed chickens, or mushrooms the size of mess tins, just the usual green grass and trees.

We approach the bank of the Techa River. There’s a decrepit wire fence, and a sign that reads "Hazardous Zone" in peeling paint. Here, in the flood plane of a radioactive river, stand rows of little houses. On one side of the river stands the town of Muslyumovo, on the other––the power station. The government is preparing to resettle the town, which simply means to move it from one bank to the other. They say that it’s safe there. Maria Yermina, the press secretary for the Ministry of Construction, Industry, and Energy in Chelyabinsk Region, believes that both banks are now free of radiation – however, a 1994 document from the Russian government, still un-rescinded, states that the land surrounding the station and the town of Muslyumovo is dangerous to residents. She says the government is giving a gift to the people by moving them to new homes.

A million roubles ‘for free’

bodytextimage_pic1-2..jpg Photo: Rashid Alimov/Bellona

The residents of Muslyumovo are convinced that they were “lab rats.” Their town was the only one on the Techa River to be exposed to radiation three times and not resettled.

Radiobiologists speak with pride of how, thanks to the town of Muslyumovo, they were able to obtain unique case material about the effect of prolonged exposure to small doses of radiation on humans.

Residents of Muslyumovo don’t think it’s a coincidence they’re being resettled to the other side of the very same river – the experiment continues.

Lawyer Andrei Talevlin

Lawyer Andrei Talevlin, who is active in the environmental movement in the Chelyabinsk Region, and who represents victims of ecological disasters, sees mendacity in the resettlement plans.

“The resettlement of the people has already, on several occasions, been carried out deceitfully. About seven years ago a resident of Kunashaka came to me. At that time it was also possible to receive a house from the government, so she stood in line and got one, only her building turned out to be shoddily constructed,” Talevlin told Bellona Web in an interview.

“The same thing happened in Muslyumovo: the government appeared to be giving out apartments, but they were constructed in such a way that made them undesirable. In a similar vein, there was a lot of red tape surrounding the process of obtaining documents for the houses. You had to draw up a plan for the land and get a zelyonka, and this all took a lot of time, and more importantly, it cost a lot of money. Can you imagine what it must have been like for elderly folks see their houses destroyed? For them it was a real tragedy.”

Muslyumovo: The Facts
– Only place in the world where people are sick with chronic radiation sickness
– Only 1.4 percent can be considered ‘healthy’
– The majority of inhabitants have three or more chronic ailments
– The rates of illness and death from cancer are significantly higher than the average for Chelyabinsk Region

The town on the Techa River suffered as a result of three separate incidents. From 1949 to 1956 the nearby facility discharged liquid radioactive waste directly into the river. In 1957 there was an accident at Mayak, then in the spring of 1967, gale-force winds spread radioactive particles over an area of a thousand square kilometres.