Episode 213: City 40: Russia’s Nuclear Secret

On this episode of the Sofa King Podcast, we talk about the little-known secret of “closed towns,” most notably Russia’s City 40. City 40 was the old code name for what is now known as Ozersk. This is the birthplace of the Soviet Nuclear weapons program after the end WWII, and to this day, nobody is allowed into the city except its citizens.

There are an estimated 100,000 people living in City 40 today, and it is the hub of Russian nuclear technology. A documentary called City 40 (directed by Samira Goetschel) was filmed by a crew who were illegally smuggled into the city by residents who wanted their story to be told. This is one of the major sources of information about Ozersk since the Russian military still keeps the place on lock down for reasons of state security.

So what goes on in City 40? Well, originally, it was the home of the Mayak Nuclear Facility, a place built by forced prison labor. This plant produced the majority of the nuclear material for early Soviet Bombs, and now it refines nuclear materials from submarines and military purposes and repurposes them for medical and space exploration.

As one would expect, this factory has not been without its environmental problems. For one thing, they dumped their nuclear waste in nearby lakes. A lot of it. I mean, like, tons of it. The lakes are considered by some to be the worst ecological region on the planet. This is a major problem for obvious reasons, but also because one of the lakes was drained, and the sand from the lake bed caused a nuclear dust storm!

City 40 was also home to what was known as the Kyshtym disaster in September 29, 1957, when an underground container of liquid radioactive waste exploded. This created a 100 km long radioactive cloud. 23 Villages had to be destroyed and 10,000 evacuated. This explosion is pretty obscure to history, but it is said to have exposed over 500,000 people to five times more nuclear radiation than Chernobyl did in 1986.

So, how does a city of 100,000 people remain closed to the public in today’s age? When are people allowed to leave, and who is allowed to come in? Why would people stay in a city that is filled with radiation and has one of the highest cancer rates on earth? How are the citizens of City 40 treated by the government? How many spies are in this town? What happened to the people in the documentary after it released? Listen, laugh, learn.

 

Follow up to the City 40 Documentary: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/20/graveyard-earth-inside-city-40-ozersk-russia-deadly-secret-nuclear

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