T117. Radioactive Mayak

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number:  117
Panelists:  Nadezhda Kutepova, Gordon Edwards, and Robert (Bob) del Tredici
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  22 June 2020
Date Transcribed and Verified:  4 May 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: Adam Wynne

 

Note: Please note that this transcript has been edited.

Intro/Outro  

Welcome. This is Talk About Saving the World. A weekly series of discussions sponsored by Peace Magazine and Project Save the World. Every week, we join some friends and experts at our respective webcams, to talk about how to prevent one or more of the six most serious global threats to humankind: war and weapons, especially nuclear; global warming; famine; pandemics; massive radiation exposure through something like a reactor explosion; and cyber-attacks. Our host is a retired University of Toronto sociology professor, Metta Spencer. 

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, and I’m in Toronto, but I’m going to have a very geographically diverse kind of conversation today with people who have a great deal of concern about the effects of the contamination of radioactivity on the human body. And these are all in various ways people who had experience with this. The person I got to first that I want to speak with most is Nadezhda Kutepova, or as she says in France, they say it the way we would in Canada – Kutepova. Nadezhda is from a part of Russia near Chelyabinsk, where there’s an installation called Mayak. And that seems to be the main place where the Soviets and I guess still the Russian state, produce their nuclear weapons and plutonium and reprocessing and a lot of other very, very, very dangerous things. So there have been terrible catastrophes, very bad accidents in the region. Two other people here with me, also have very sustained, long-term interest in these issues. One is Gordon Edwards and the other is Bob del Tredici. Both Gordon and Bob are in Montreal, right?

Robert (Bob) del Tredici 

Yes, correct.

Metta Spencer  

And Bob del Tredici is a photographer and he has made almost a career or maybe indeed a career of photographing radiation risk sites. Hanford, Los Alamos and he even tried to go to Mayak in Russia and got as close as Chelyabinsk, where he was able to take some photos that he’ll share with us briefly. Now, I want to say hello to Nadezhda, in Paris. Hi Nadezhda.

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Hi Metta. Hi Toronto.

Metta Spencer  

Wonderful to see you. You know, you’ve had an amazing career. I believe you’re really a refugee from Russia, because of threats against your life and your wellbeing for exposing things that the Russian government did not want known. Tell us about it.

Nadezhda Kutepova  

I was born in a Soviet secret nuclear city, which was named Chelyabinsk-65. At the time of my birth, my grandmother was a first-generation engineer at the Mayak nuclear plant. She arrived in 1948 with her daughter, my mother. And my father, he was a liquidator of the Kyshtym accident explosion in 1957. When I was a child, I never heard about radiation or nuclear or the nuclear plant. I knew that my father was working like an engineer at the plant. And my mother, she is working like a doctor at the plant. So, when I grew up, first of all, I lost my father. He died from cancer when I was 13. Then I became a nurse. It was a choice because my mother was a doctor. But then, after years, I changed my direction. I graduated from the Ural State University as a sociologist. Then I organized the NGO, when one day I knew and understood the truth about Mayak. For me, it was a big surprise. It was a big surprise to know how it’s possible to lie openly for a long-time to people. And that’s why I created my NGO, which was named the Planet of Hopes. From 2000 until 2015, I defended people in the local, international, and also regional courts. We won many cases. But we also lost many cases. That’s why we have some ways of intimidation from the state. It was in 2004, 2009, and the last wave which were in 2015, where my NGO was recognized as a foreign agent and I was accused of industrial espionage against the state [of Russia]. I escaped to Paris.  I became a refugee with my kids. It was not easy. But it’s already been five years, our time in France. Last year, I graduated from Sorbonne University’s Faculty of Law. And this year, I began little by little to go back to my theme, to my subject, my job, which I always love, and which people of our region always need. Because compared to Chernobyl and the Chernobyl accident, Mayak continues to work, continues to produce nuclear waste, and continues to contaminate the area. And we still have people who live near the nuclear [contaminated] river and the people who have second – and today, third generations – who suffer from different diseases. So I would like to help them.

Metta Spencer  

Well, I saw videos of the work that you were doing while you were still there. You had an office and people would come in and you would say that you had tried to put together a legal case. But that you didn’t – in most cases you couldn’t do much for them, right? Let’s go back to 1957. Because I think you said your father had been exposed to radiation in that accident? I bet very few people who are watching this ever heard of this enormous accident that took place in 1957? What was it that happened then? And how did your father suffer from the effects?

Nadezhda Kutepova  

To tell about this accident, we should begin from the dumping of nuclear waste from the production of plutonium into the Techa River. Because, you know, the first plutonium production technologies included producing many, many tons of nuclear waste of different types – high level, middle level, and low level. And then – from the first moment, from 1949, maybe 1948 – that nuclear waste – liquid nuclear waste – was dumped into the natural river, which was named the Techa River. And near this river, in the beginning of the 1950s, there were 39 villages. The nearest villages were just 7 kilometers away [from Mayak’s dumping]. In the middle of 1950s, the doctors and scientists who were working at Mayak were also serving the populations identified as being at high risk of mortalities, birth defects, and leukemia. The doctors and scientists said that Mayak should stop dumping high level nuclear waste into the river. In 1951, Mayak stopped dumping high level nuclear waste into the Techa River and began to store it in underground storage tanks. It was a big metal tank where they put the liquid nuclear waste. I read the memories, recollections, and testimonies of people who said it was like [note: unclear audio – potentially “euphoria”] and they did everything very good there and that it was not at all a bad situation. So, they did not really control this. And the equipment which they were using to make measurements was from the chemical industry. So, in the beginning of 1957, the workers of the plant – it was Plant 25 – told the head of Mayak that there was a problem with an underground tank. The tank was hot and had no water for cooling. However, there was no reaction from Mayak. And on 29 September 1957, the workers saw that the tank was very hard and very hot. This was a sign that something especially bad was happening. So, they began to call the head manager of Mayak and in this moment the explosion happens.  At the time of the explosion, nobody was in the adjacent buildings and officially – and I checked many sources – no one was killed because most of the people were not in the immediate area of the explosion. But there were many disruptions from the explosion and there was a huge contamination area. And in this area, there were other plants, because Mayak is not just one plant, it is many plants with different roles. And this plant [where the explosion occurred] was a nuclear waste plant. Now, the plant is known as a reprocessing plant. Multiple plants in the area were contaminated, as well as military units and prisoner camps. Many nearby buildings were part of the GULAG prison system. The explosion launched nuclear waste upwards for 1 kilometer and released 20 million curies – officially it was 18 million curies – into the area around Mayak. The official cause of the explosion was attributed to high temperatures in the underground storage reservoir which were caused by the evaporation of water and the nuclear waste producing gas which exploded, akin to a chemical reaction. Some versions say it was a chain reaction, but this was not confirmed as a list of the full and specific contents of the reservoir was never made public.  So, the official version is that it was a chemical explosion. On 29 September 1957, my father was living in Sverdlovsk – a neighbouring region, now part of Yekaterinburg. He was 19 and was a student at a local radio-technical, it was like a lyceum. The next day after the accident, on 30 September 1957, he was mobilized as a Komsomolets [Komsomol] – a service organization of Young Communists – to liquidate the by-products and consequences of the accident. I learned all this information in 1991 when we received official documents about his participation. He died in 1985. I never heard any information about this from him directly. And even when he was in his last years and dying – and he was ill from 1983 and died in 1985 – he never talked about radiation. I heard my mother – who was a doctor – talking with her colleagues about the cancer, but nothing else. 

Metta Spencer  

Did she understand or did they both understand that he was dying of the effects of that explosion 30 years later or so?

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yes, I suppose my mom knew exactly, because she was working in the special hospital for Mayak’s workers. But my father, I don’t know, because from one side, everybody knew – from the workers of Mayak – that there was an accident. There was contamination, but they never saw or heard about the [note: unclear audio – potentially ‘dangerous environment and doses’]. And at this time, the Soviet medical system did not tell someone it was cancer when they were ill. So, it was – and I did not prepare to show you this – but I have one document of my father’s that I can show you. It is a document from 1985 where it is written that he died from the ‘common disease.’ He was disabled from the ‘common disease.’ And the ‘common disease’ – what is this? It is not an official classification or nomination for any sickness. It was a secret name for the illnesses connected to radiation. I understood this many years later.  And in 2007, I made efforts and finally received the document – it was an expert council decision – that my father’s colon cancer was officially connected with his participation in the liquidation of the accident in 1957. 

Metta Spencer  

It fits not only the Russian situation, but things that I’ve read about the lying that states do to the people who work in these places elsewhere. The people who worked at Hanford were also exposed to terrible effects and we’re not told the truth about it. Gordon, you know, you’re an expert on radiation. Any comments or insight on this? 

Gordon Edwards  

The liquid that was in the tank that exploded, is was an acid solution, because in order to get the plutonium out of the used nuclear fuel… plutonium doesn’t exist in nature. It’s created inside each nuclear reactor as it operates. But along with the plutonium, there are hundreds of other fiercely radioactive materials which are very biologically damaging, such as cesium 137, which lasts for a 30-year half-life, which means it’s around for many centuries after it’s created. And other things, which have much longer half-lives, like plutonium itself, which has a 24 000-year half-life. And many of these materials, they all have different pathways through the body. But the one thing that distinguishes them from most ordinary materials in nature, is that they are radioactive, which means the atoms themselves are unstable, and they explode. Inside the body and outside the body, the atoms are exploding. And they’re giving off damaging shrapnel you might say, which damages the DNA molecules and causes things like cancer, and other diseases as well. And the level of radioactivity is enormous in the liquid waste, because basically, they’re taking the most intensely radioactive material on Earth, which is the irradiated nuclear fuel, and then dissolving it and putting it into a liquid form. So that when this chemical explosion occurs, it sends this material up into the air over a very, very wide area, as we have been told. And many villages were totally evacuated, and the people never returned to those many of those villages. And they’re… even now today, there is a large area, which is excluded from any visitors because of the level of contamination which still exists in this area. And that’s directly from this 1957 accident. Now, the, although some of the Western intelligence agencies like the CIA, apparently knew about this explosion, but they said not a word about it. And it wasn’t until a Russian biologist named Medvedev came to England. And he just happened to mention this accident in the course of writing another article. And he did not know that it was completely secret. And so, he was surprised. He was astonished at the response to his article when he mentioned this accident. And he then went back and wrote a book called Nuclear Disaster in the Urals, which explained much more detail about this mammoth explosion. And this is when the existence of this huge incident in which much more radiation was released than was released from Chernobyl, even. The Chernobyl accident was simply a single reactor with the core of that single reactor. Some of that material wasn’t was given off into the atmosphere, a fraction of it. But in the case of this tank, there were many years’ worth of reactor operation in the one tank, and so the material that was available to be released was far greater than the material that was released during the Chernobyl explosion. The results of that are still very evident today. And as we have been told, the plant continues to operate. And they continue to produce the same types of materials inside the plant, although they’re not exploding and being released in vast amounts, and nevertheless, they’re being released in small amounts routinely all the time. So that’s still going on. 

Metta Spencer 

Bob del Tredici, I think you have a photo of a tissue in the lung. Let me get back to when you’re ready, just go ahead and put it up. Oh, there you go. Uh huh.  

[Bob Del Tredici shows photo on screen.]

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

Okay, this is an article of plutonium in lung tissue. It was injected into an ape as an experiment. And what’s interesting about it, it’s alpha radiation from plutonium and alpha [radiation] doesn’t travel very far at all. But in that small radius there, the cells that are within that are getting serious bombardment. That’s 48 hours’ worth of alpha rays you’re looking at.

Gordon Edwards  

I might mention in this connection that many people are unaware of the fact that this alpha radiation is not an external hazard. It’s a type of radiation unlike gamma radiation which penetrates from a distance. The alpha radiation must get inside your body to do its damage. But they are of course, plentifully available in the liquid wastes. So, when the liquid waste explodes, external and internal emitters are given off. But some of the most dangerous radioactive materials of the 20th century, such as radon gas, radium dial painters, people have heard of that; plutonium; uranium itself; and polonium what was used to murder Alexander Litvinenko in London, England; these are all alpha emitting materials. And many people are unaware of the fact that these are extraordinarily deadly once they get inside the body. Much more so than x-rays or gamma rays even.

Metta Spencer  

Now, Nadezhda tell me about the people who were exposed to this. What was the general effect? Your father lives some years. And he didn’t get sick right away, right?  But what did you find out about the general health effects of these villages that were contaminated? They eventually moved people away, right? 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

There were two types of population. First of all was the population which were living in the closest city. Officially, on 29 September 1957, the wind was blowing in a different direction than the city. So officially, the area of the closest city – which serves Mayak – was not contaminated. Another area – the area surrounding the Mayak City and Mayak Plant – we lost 23 villages. And the people from those villages were not warned about the accident, about the explosion, or about the contamination. And during the first week after the explosion, 4 villages were evacuated. But at this time, it was a state secret and people were not informed. They were told that the doctors and scientists said it was poisonous. Following the explosion, 2 scientific institutes were created. 1 was in Chelyabinsk and was for studying about half of the population in the area surrounding Mayak. And the other was inside the closest city, which was for studying the Mayak population – the health of the Mayak workers and the population of Ozersk. So, for many years – until 1989 -when the information was classified, nobody knew about the scientific research. You could not find this information. In the early 1990s, the institutions published many articles and information about the contamination, their scientific research, and about health. Also in 1993, they signed the first law about social defense and the rights of the afflicted and suffering populations – then referring to the workers. The list of diseases which were officially connected, it was the list which we received from the Chernobyl accident. There were many – maybe 30 – diseases which were connected during the early 1990s. Then the state began cutting the list. They cut it; cut it; cut it. And now there are only 5 types of diseases. First of all, its different types of cancers – including leukemia and other cancers; and also, a ‘chronic nuclear disease’ and genetic disease. But at the same time, if we try to find real or official information about the health consequences, it’s very difficult. And I’ll explain why: it is because the Russian system of gathering statistics – how do you say it – is very tricky. First of all, people from the local villages could be sent to different hospitals which did not put their data or statistics in the database for the Mayak Contamination Area. People were sent to a hospital in a different district. And when I tried to find information, I could not find it because it was not registered. 

Metta Spencer  

Well, what do you think it was? Were they deliberately trying to hide it? Or was it that they didn’t collect it in a form that would be useable in any way?

Nadezhda Kutepova  

It was not collectible and I think there were also orders to eliminate this information from the archives. It was very easy in Soviet times to just order information be eliminated and then you have no evidence. Then we look at how the medical system was organized in this very poor district in the 1950s. When irradiated people arrived at the local hospital, the doctors knew nothing about the situation. They could be diagnosed with internal diseases that had the same symptoms. So, the doctors who were serving the irradiated patients and those from the radioactively contaminated areas were unable to register the disease as a radiation-related illness. It was instead registered as a usual [common] disease. So officially, there were no people with radiation-related disease or illness. At the same time, for example, if we are looking at the documents from the 1990s. These are the earliest reports published by the institutions. It was the Gorbachev Report – Glasnost – the opening of information. We know from this report, that the population of the nearest village – Metlino – which was only 7 kilometers from where high-level nuclear waste was dumped – had a population of 6407 in 1956. This population suffers from chronic nuclear diseases.  If you try to find this information today, nothing. It is all scientific research, yet no mention of anyone with chronic nuclear disease. And I would like to ask: how is it possible to falsify information? Both in 1991 and today. 

Metta Spencer  

Oh, okay. So, Gorbachev says yes, you can find out and for a while it becomes visible. And then somebody says, no, you can’t. Do you know exactly how that came about? That they suddenly began hiding it again? And also, tell me how you got motivated? Because at some point, you discovered that you’d been deceived all your life. And you decided… you got motivated to actually help people. How did that come about? How did you make that discovery? 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

It was that we were very patriotic. We were pioneers and I was a Kosmomol. However, I had never thought about the Outlands, or radiation, or the local populations. For me, it was, you know what I saw in my childhood. It was a big difference between their level of life because in our city [Ozersk], we had everything. Any food, any clothes, anything.  But when I visited them- 

Metta Spencer  

I’m sorry, but these were privileges given to the people working in this dangerous place?

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yes.

Metta Spencer  

But they were not told that it was dangerous?  

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yes.

Metta Spencer  

They were just given extra benefits. 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yes. People will tell you that it was not because of the benefits due to the dangerous work, but because what we were doing was important to the state. The things that we were doing was very important for our security and that is why we have never failed. So, I visited my grandma in Sverdlovsk and there was nothing in the magazines. I was surprised. And I asked my mom: Why? She explained that we were doing something special for the state and that’s why the state cares more about us than the other- and non- inhabitants of the Soviet Union. And even when the information was open in 1989, I did not pay attention to this, because at that time I was a student of a medical school and I was young. Also, in our city there was a special ideology for us. When the information was opened – and for example, when we first saw my father’s documents – the adults explained to us that we created a nuclear bomb because it was necessary to fight against the United States and if we did not create it, we could have already been killed. So, we did everything. We did cause contamination, but it was for the state. Our lives were not important. Only state secrets and the state’s goals were important. And I took it like it was. You know, when you see something from childhood, it looks normal. Then when I had graduated university as a sociologist, I was participating in an environmental conference and it was the first time I saw an official from our city. It was the head of an environmental department who made an open speech and open report from the tribunal. He talked about the accident of 1957; about the dumping in the Techa River; about Lake Karachay; and even about current contamination because there is strong present-day contamination. I was surprised. And I asked him: How is it possible in our City that we do not know about this? We don’t talk about this. And about the forests. We were told the forests were limited [off limits], but this was not true. Because when you arrive, you see many babushka grandmothers who are selling mushrooms and berries and who are working in local forests. And I asked, how is it possible that the environmental service knows about the contamination, but allows people to harvest and sell the mushrooms? And he told me: “In our city, everyone knows everything. So nobody’s interesting.” and that it was usual for us. Then I asked my mom: What is happening? What happened to my grandmother who died from cancer 7 years before my dad? What happened to my father who died from cancer in 1985? And she told me about the nuclear accident; and that yes, it was true, that they talked and all these years he knew about this and did not tell me about this. She told me it was a state secret. It was impossible. If we opened this state secret, we could be sent to prison. She also told me the tragic story of my father. His marriage with my mother was his second marriage. His first marriage was in 1958, immediately after the accident. They had a daughter – my sister – who was born with a brain disease and who died young.  He suffered all his life from this, because he divorced her. She ended up in the psychiatric clinic. And my mother told me that after the accident, we saw many kids like this in our city because scientists understood that radiation influenced spermatozoon production. So, it was the influence of radiation on their reproductive system and that is why they had a child like that. It’s a contract now. The general rules in Mayak are that if the man wants to have a child, he should leave the dangerous place and the plant for six months before in order to make a baby. So, this information changed me because for me, it is a total injustice. How is it possible that they lie, lie, lie all the time? And also, you know, the feeling of deep injustice for local populations because in our City we have the benefits for this dangerous life. It was a little bit voluntary. But for the local population who was living before Mayak – 100 years before – and to receive this problem, like the chemical plant that contaminated everything; which destroyed and confiscated their land; which destroyed their lives and broke the destiny of their children. For me, this was very difficult and I told myself that I should create the NGO to create something that could – I don’t know – defend my grandparents, and if I could not do something for them, then I should do it for these people. It was justified. 

Metta Spencer  

Bless you. Bless you. 

Gordon Edwards  

If I could just say a word about the mushrooms. Because of the fact that wild boars eat a lot of mushrooms, you know, the pigs, unearth truffles and eat truffles, they love mushrooms. In both Germany and Czechoslovakia and Poland, even today, the boars when people go boar hunting, the boar meat is much too radioactive to consume for human consumption. And so, there’s alerts from the governments of both countries, that if hunters kill a boar, they should not eat the meat and the government will actually pay the money for losing the value of the meat that they have hunted. And even in the Fukushima area as well, the boars are now hundreds of times more contaminated than is allowed for human consumption. And the reason for this is because the same materials that were released from those tanks that exploded in 1957, were also released from Chernobyl and Fukushima. These are the high-level radioactive waste, which are released during an accident of any time. And even though they were released in smaller amounts at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Nevertheless, that contamination is very long lived. It’s now been 35 years since Chernobyl and yet those wild boars are still too radioactive for human consumption. Sheep farmers in Wales and Northern England were prevented – for more than 20 years – to sell the sheep meat on the open market for human consumption because of radioactivity from Chernobyl. So, understanding that situation, you can transfer this back to Mayak and to Chelyabinsk. And you realize that even there, there was much greater contamination It was a longer time ago, but still a half-life of 30 years means you have to wait 60 years before the amount of radioactivity has reduced by one quarter, down to one quarter of what it was originally. And you have to wait 300 years before it’s down to 1000, a factor of 1000. So, and that’s only for 30-year half-life, when you have things that have 100s of years of half-life or 1000s of years of half-life, then essentially, we’re talking about eternity here, we’re talking about perpetual contamination. And it’s the consumption of these contaminated foods that that leads to the internal radiation. Also, there is well known a well-known feature, which is important to understand, when you see somebody smoking a cigarette, you don’t see them dropping down dead, right after smoking the cigarette. The same thing with radiation, the effects are cumulative, and they take time, and there’s something called a latency period. For different kinds of cancers, the latency period is different. For example, for leukemia, it takes about four or five years before you start seeing an increase in the leukemia. For lung cancer, it takes 20 or 30 years before you start seeing a real increase in in lung cancer. So, the body incorporates these harmful materials, the harm is done to the cells inside the body. And then that harm is replicated by the normal replication of cells. So, the harm grows inside the body. Even though the radiation doesn’t grow, the harm done by the radiation does.

Metta Spencer  

I’m struck by the fact that they glorified the work. You know, you were such heroes doing this work. Bob del Tredici, I think you’ll have a photo of a of a monument they made to extol the people who made the atomic weapons. Do you have that photo?

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

Yes, right in downtown Chelyabinsk and there’s Igor Kurchatov on a statue there. There is a splitting of a single atom. And the wavy lines around it represent the energy released when the atom is broken like that. And then those broken, broken pieces fall to Earth in the form of fallout.

Gordon Edwards  

And those broken pieces of uranium atoms that constitute hundreds of different radioactive materials that are created by the splitting of the atom. They’re mostly broken pieces of uranium atoms. That’s one category. And the other category is things which are heavier than uranium, because of absorbing neutrons. That’s where plutonium comes from – and americium and curium. So, there’s materials which are smaller than uranium atoms, which are very dangerous, called the fission products. And then there’s materials which are heavier than uranium atoms, and they’re man made, human made materials, which are very bad, particularly inside the body.

Metta Spencer  

Well, so here we are, on the one hand, you have the celebration of the heroes who made the atomic and nuclear weapons; and then the continuation of poisoning them as they go, even to this day gathering mushrooms and berries and so on. In her recent book, Kate, you can take it down, Bob, thank you [Bob closes photo.]. In her recent book, Kate Brown was talking about, she herself went out into the contaminated areas, and picked berries with people because that’s how the local people make a little pocket money or quite a bit of their income actually, from buying, or rather picking blueberries near in the area of where the fallout from Chernobyl took place. And the issues mentioned in these blueberries, if they’re too contaminated, they, they dilute them by mixing them with less contaminated berries. So, they’re down below the threshold that can be accepted, and then they sell it to the EU. So, the people in Europe are eating this and don’t know it. I don’t know, are they still… Nadezhda, do they do the people still go around these villages – your grandmother picked blueberries and mushrooms and stuff -does that continue? 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yes. Because the population of the area are really poor, so they have no choice. And also, the government’s position is a little bit tricky. On one side, if you take the documents and literature, there is lots of information – an enormous amount of information – about the Mayak accident and the contamination. But if you go into the local forest, you can see – maybe, if you can find it – a very old, little tablet [sign] with the symbol of radiation and a warning about it being very bad. It’s written that it is dangerous to get the mushrooms and berries. And if you’re looking at it, you think maybe it was many years ago that the warning tablet [sign] was put there. Maybe now it’s not dangerous. So, then I was talking about this with the local government and with the officials of Mayak, I asked: Why are you doing so? Their official position is that: We opened information and then we prevented [warned] people and if people ignore this information, they take the responsibility on themselves and it is not our problem. I said: Maybe it’s better to put a good sign to show that this is dangerous. And, you know, the answer was that: We do not want to have a bad reputation for our region – if we put this sign, which is very visible, everyone will film them and say that there is very high radioactive contamination across the Ozersk region; we will lose all investments. Because everyone wants to have investments. And also, I would like to add to the plutonium subject of the accident of 1957: the first time that I think I paid attention – usually when they publish information about contamination, it’s always maps of cesium and strontium and never plutonium. And I have found just one book, which was published in 1995, which says that 400 grams of plutonium was in the tank that exploded. So, we can say, of course, plutonium contamination exists after the accident. Also, there is contamination from current activities of Mayak. The problem is, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that we cannot differentiate between plutonium from the 1957 accident and plutonium from current activities – as it’s all just plutonium, which is an artificial element. I think that it is not mapped because they are afraid of the contamination being for 24 000 years. It means forever. They are afraid that the people will be seriously and serially contaminated with plutonium and not be happy. 

Gordon Edwards  

Just to be scientifically precise about this: it is true that most of the plutonium was removed, because they wanted the plutonium for the bombs. So, the purpose of dissolving the material originally in acid was to remove plutonium. So, a lot of the plutonium would be gone.  However, there are other materials which are even more toxic than plutonium, which are even heavier than petroleum, such as americium. Now americium is dozens of times more toxic than plutonium. And it doesn’t it doesn’t have quite the same half-life, but it’s still very, very long and many, many, many centuries and 1000s of years. So, although plutonium itself may be reduced, in the tank, the other things would not be reduced. The americium, the neptunium, the curium the einsteinium – these heavier than uranium atoms are all exceedingly toxic. And we find here in Canada, for example, that they often tell people here in Canada talking about misinformation, the mining companies will tell people that: “Well don’t worry about radioactivity, because we’re taking uranium away, we’re helping you by removing uranium.” But the thing is, there are things far more toxic than uranium, which are left behind. 85% of the radioactivity is left behind in the sandy residues. And it has a half-life of over 100,000 years. So oftentimes, the industry will lie, by telling you part truths, they’ll tell you half the truth, but not the whole truth. And so, I just wanted to be careful about that question about plutonium, because it would be true that a plutonium would have been reduced, but not absent, they would still be there. And the other things would still be there without any reduction at all. There was a nuclear physicist in the United States who became a renowned medical doctor. His name is John Gofman. And he said that radiation damage and death is; he says it’s the perfect crime. It’s the perfect crime because we know people are dying. We know who’s doing it. We know what the murder weapon is. And yet, in individual cases, you can’t prove it. So, it’s the perfect crime. And I think that that’s a very important way to look at it. If you have time for a brief little story, the reason why, which led to this remark by John Gofman was that he was hired to disprove something that Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling said, he said that 96,000 Americans were dying every year as a result of the bomb test, the atomic bomb tests that were being conducted in Nevada. 96,000 Americans per year. And when they heard this, the industry was horrified and said, we’ve got to shut this man up. We’ve got to prevent him. We’ve got to counteract what he’s saying. So, they hired John Gofman to discredit Linus Pauling. And after seven years of work on radiation effects and the health effects of radiation, John Gofman came to the conclusion that it was only about 32,000 Americans that were dying every year. And he thought that he had done a good job because he cut it down to 1/3 of what Linus Pauling said, but of course, that was not the point. They wanted him to say there were no deaths, and he wouldn’t do that. And this is why he became a fierce opponent of nuclear power and even wrote a book called Population Controls for Radioactive Pollution.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, kill them off. Yeah, well, what I wonder Nadezhda, you organize. But here in Canada, and around the world, I think there are local groups that have organized about a particular risk of radiation from a reactor in your area, or maybe tritium being dumped here or there. Or local places where organizations form. But I don’t know… I don’t think there’s enough contact among these separate groups, for example, would your group at Mayak have been in touch with the people organizing in Kazakhstan, in and around Semipalatinsk? You know, they, they had their own health issues, and somebody I guess, must have helped to begin to organize them. But were the people in various parts of Russia who were concerned about the same health threats in touch with each other? And could you sustain any kind of, you know, either global or even national organization of people opposed to nuclear radiation?

Nadezhda Kutepova  

You know, that, in the middle of the 1990s, maybe in the beginning of the 1990s, there was a very strong group called Movement for Nuclear Safety which was headed by Natalia Mironova. We organized in Chelyabinsk and she organized all the contact there. There was a very strong network of different NGOs who were working near the Russian nuclear site. The problem – and also with the Kazakh groups – is that Russia is a huge county and there is significant distance between the cities and the different populations. So, it takes a lot of resources, a lot of research, and a lot of money to travel from one city to another city. During this time, there was no Internet or similar modes of communication. Also, ROSATOM – the Russian Nuclear Agency – understood very quickly that they should fight against anti-nuclear activists and against human rights activists. So, they organized this very large department of public relations with a huge budget and they began to make a campaign about clean nuclear energy that had no bad results of contamination. The power capacities of the NGO and the State were not the same. And also, after Putin came to power, the state’s fight against civil society and the NGO became much stronger. That’s why many NGOs died. Many activists were intimidated. And there’s a historical memory from the time of the GULAG system that has instilled fear in many people. When you begin this type of activism activities, you should be ready for immediate intimidation. You need to have real resistance in your soul to resist against the pressure. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for people. It’s not easy for populations. And the problem, which I would note regarding Mayak, is that when the information about the accidents were first opened, the population already had a habit to live with this. And as a sociologist, I can tell you, the populations living with the contamination have a habit where they do not pay attention to it. For example, in my city of Ozersk, each family had 2 or 3 members who had died of cancer, but nobody pays attention to this because for us it is normal from childhood and has always been so. In the case of when the accident happened, suddenly everybody is looking here and the reaction is immediate. However, with an accident that has a long time period, it’s a little bit trickier. The public consciousness stops being concerned about it. Do you understand what I am saying? That’s why. And the second reason is that the people who are really ill – and their parents if its kids; or themselves – they cannot be occupied by the question of their rights, because they are ill. They have no power. They stay in bed.  And furthermore, the population which were contaminated is very rural, poor, and are a national minority. Sometimes they do not speak very good Russian. These places are situated 200 kilometers from the main city. The area is littered and scattered with these communities. There is a feeling of no hope. No hope. So, what can we do? I do not know the term for this feeling in English, but it’s “What can I do?” It’s a continuous feeling. Always present. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay, now you had to leave because you were being intimidated. 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yes. 

Metta Spencer  

 And you fled to Paris with your children? And… but now what I wonder is, to what extent is it still dangerous for anybody to try to make the people of Mayak aware of their situation, as you were doing? If you try to reach out to them today, are you in touch with them? Is it dangerous for them? I think you’re safe, because you’re out of the country. But is it… do you put them in any jeopardy by being in touch with them and trying to make them more aware of their situation? 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

I stayed in contact with the people for all these years. There are some people who refuse to have contact with me because they are afraid and are scared of the government. But there are some people who stay in touch with me and who I continue to help and who I receive information from. However, it is now more difficult – for example – to contact them with a journalist, because each time the journalist arrives, the local government presses them for this contact. They ask them: Why did you give the interview? Especially if it’s foreign journalists. They say: You are trying to do something against Russia. It is a time of patriotism in Russia. After this, I had some people refuse to give interviews to journalists. And also, the authorities continue to denigrate me in the local press, especially after the story of ruthenium contamination in 2017 when I was the first whistleblower to say the contamination was from Mayak. Mayak did not recognize their responsibility for the contamination in 2017. Yet, just yesterday there was a fresh article from scientists who said again that it was Mayak and that we are waiting [for them to acknowledge this]. How many years will they continue to lie? For the accident of 1957, it was 32 years. For the Techa [river contamination], it was much more.  And for the ruthenium, it’s already been 3 years. How many years will we wait? 

Metta Spencer  

Well, yes, and of course, in steering the question of initially to the 1957 event, which I’ve sort of skipped over everything that’s happened since then, of course, it’s never stopped being a risky place. It’s continuously producing dangers for people. And I don’t know how close you were to Lake Karachay. Is that connected with Mayak? I was hearing people talk about going to Lake Karachay and it’s a sort of place where if you stood on the bank of the lake for just a few minutes, you’d get a lethal dose just by standing there. And I gather that a lot of that lake has dried up and some of the material has blown away and so on. Is that connected to Mayak? How close are they? 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yes, I explained that. As I mentioned, in 1951 Mayak stopped dumping high level nuclear waste in the Techa River. And they also stopped dumping mid-level nuclear waste in the Techa River. However, they began to dump mid-level nuclear waste into Lake Karachay. Lake Karachay is part of a system of lakes which are technically reservoirs. It is situated within the boundaries of Mayak. If you want to go there, it’s impossible for both citizens and officers because Mayak has its own barrier defense system. It’s a common defense system alongside each object’s own defense system inside the Mayak area. Through human activities, Lake Karachay is now separated from the other lakes. We try to believe this.  They made the researchers say that Lake Karachay is not connected to the other lakes that are situated in the area. These lakes were formerly – and still are – connected to the Techa River. Lake Karachay is a little bit separated, but in the same general area. The name for the place is now Reservoir 9. Officially, it has low contamination and officially they covered Lake Karachay with [concrete] blocks in 2016. The problem is, first of all, we do not know how much radioactivity is in Lake Karachay. In 1989, they announced it was 120 million curies. But when I checked, they continue to say it was the same level of radiation despite continuing to dump mid-level nuclear waste after 1989. Each year 1 million curies of nuclear waste are dumped. So, I suppose it should be 150 million curies in Lake Karachay. The second thing is that it is now an underground lake. Yesterday, I read the official documents that it is a 20 square kilometer underground lake. Officially they control it, but nobody comes to check it.  

Metta Spencer  

Before this pandemic took place, I was organizing an event where some Japanese were coming from – people who were concerned about Fukushima – and they were coming to Toronto. We were going to have an organizing meeting, an afternoon where we would hook up by Zoom with people all over the world who had been part of local or academic projects, to oppose radioactive contamination. And that was well along in planning. But of course, we’re not allowed to meet now. And I don’t know whether we will ever do such thing. But we could by Zoom, we could reach out and actually hold a meeting where people from various parts of the world such as yourself, or people like Trisha Pritikin whose career is very similar to yours in that she’s also a lawyer. She was also the victim of Hanford. And she wrote a book about it and so on. All of these people could and I know, Gordon, that you’ve just done a book review of Frank von Hippel’s book. And, you know, I’m sure that Frank was, in fact, he agreed to participate in, in this meeting. So, we could have a meeting for people to create kind of a network of people around the world who want to stay in touch and work insofar as it’s possible, work together to oppose radioactive contamination. Do you think that anybody in France or Russia that you’re in touch with, or any of the groups, Nadezhda, would be able or interested in participating in such a meeting?

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yes, I think. I think this network can be a very important. Why? Because everybody from Ozersk knows the truth about the local situation. When we have people who know the truth, it is much easier to work. Because, you know, for example, when Mayak people or any nuclear officials tell you something about Mayak, you can ask me, is it true or not? And I’m telling you, that exact situation. It is also important to have such types of people from all different places. I think there are people who are interested in this in all countries, like atomic players. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay, well, good, then we’ll do it. I mean, why not? Because Zoom is a wonderful tool. And, Gordon, you were going to be one of our speakers for that event. And so, we’ll be back in touch and I would invite anybody who’s watching this, to send me the names and email addresses of any groups that you know of, that should be notified of this plan. And when we collect a good list of people who are interested in trying to block radioactive contamination, we will set up a meeting and record it and create a network so that people can be in touch with each other. Everybody agree to that? Yeah.

Nadezhda Kutepova  

I would also like to add two more things. First of all, we should talk about the nuclear contaminated populations as victims of human rights violations. You know, the problem is a legal problem. We have never used this approach for nuclear victims. It creates for the nuclear industry an interesting possibility to talk about exclusive rights and exclusive damage [compensation] for the affected people. The violation of the rights of nuclear victims is a violation of human rights. This is the first thing. The second thing that we should talk about is the importance of stopping plutonium production and reprocessing. There are only 3 countries in the world – Russia, France, and Great Britain – who continue to do this. But, the contamination and multiplication [exponential growth] of contamination increases enormously. We should talk about these 2 things which are important for our future. When we talk about victims and the past, it is important to open this information. We should also think about the future. For the future, we should stop producing plutonium and we should stop reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. We have enough.  

Metta Spencer  

We certainly do.

Gordon Edwards  

I would just like to add to that, that there is now a push here in Canada and elsewhere to develop so-called small modular reactors, which require reprocessing as part of their operation. So, there is a revitalization of this long held nuclear dream. The real enthusiasts for nuclear power have always wanted, deep in their hearts, to get a hold of that plutonium. Not necessarily for bombs, although the bombs are powerful, of course, but also for future fuel for nuclear reactors. And in the process of getting this plutonium, that’s when you liberate all these radioactive materials and make them much more accessible to the environment. So, when things go wrong, the harm done is that much greater. The explosion of 1957 is a testament to that. 

Metta Spencer  

Well, certainly, and you’ve just been reviewing von Hippel’s book which is a protest specifically against a continuation of reprocessing entirely. So, let’s, I think that’s the number one cause we should all join. That would take care of that a lot, just by stopping reprocessing. Right?

Gordon Edwards  

Absolutely. 

Metta Spencer  

Okay, there’s a lot of work to be done. And this is only scratching the surface, but I’m so grateful to you all, for participating in this initial conversation.

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

Metta, before we go away, could I show the one picture of the ‘Maids of Muslyumovo?” 

Metta Spencer  

Oh, please. Sure.

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

It’s my favourite image from all of this.  

Metta Spencer  

Yes. [Robert (Bob) del Tredici puts photo on screen.] 

Metta Spencer  

He’s got a photo of young women in the area where he was able to visit. These are Bashkir?

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

Bashkir women. Yes. 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

It would be interesting to publish your photo in the region, because maybe somebody would recognize themself, you know? 

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

That would be wonderful. 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

I am trying to think of who we could correspond with about publishing this. Because, you know, Muslyumovo was created in during 2000s and 2010s under pressure from environmental organizations. This village was created in a bad way – only 2 kilometers from the Techa River. But I would like to know, maybe people would recognize them. Maybe some have already died, because many people in Muslyumovo have died and many people have a very sick next generation [descendants].

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

Well, Nadezhda, give me a way to send this to you. Either your email or I can send you a print.

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Okay. I will see who I can communicate with and how we can publish it, maybe with a little description from you about when and where the photograph was taken. Okay, sure, we will try to do it.  

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

And you mentioned, Nadezhda, that people were told they had the “common disease” when they had radiation [radiation related illnesses], but when I went here, the people told me, the doctors were instructed to say you have “vegetative syndrome.”  

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Ah. 

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

That was code for radiation? 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

Yeah. I think that in the nuclear city [Ozersk], it called the “common disease” and for the local populations it was called the “vegetative disease.” 

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

I have one more picture to show. And it’s…  [shows drawing] That’s you. 

Nadezhda Kutepova  

It is.

Metta Spencer  

Did you draw it? 

Robert (Bob) del Tredici  

Yes, I drew it. 

Metta Spencer  

That’s great.

Intro/Outro  

This conversation is one of the weekly series Talk About Saving the World, produced by Peace Magazine and Project Save the World. Please visit our website at: tosavetheworld.ca where you can sign the Platform for Survival – a list of 25 public policy proposals, that, if enacted would greatly reduce the risk of 6 global threats to humankind. Come back next week for another discussion of a serious global issue.