“Those in paradise were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. There was no third alternative.” (From the dystopian novel We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1924)
Russia has announced that they are cancelling a more or less mothballed nuclear agreement with USA to convert weapons grade Plutonium into reactor fuel unless certain conditions are met.
· Roll back North Atlantic Treaty Organization infrastructure and reduce NATO personnel to September 2000 levels;
· Repeal the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials involved in human rights violations;
· Repeal all U.S. sanctions against Russian individuals and businesses;
· Compensate Russians for damages incurred by U.S. sanctions and by Russia’s “forced countersanctions”;
· Present a “clear plan of irreversible destruction” of U.S. surplus plutonium.
Putin should have also asked for Alaska to be returned and a pony.
The majority of Russia’s weapons grade Plutonium is currently stored in a city on the east side of the Ural Mountains, between Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg. Ozersk, code named City 40 and appearing on no maps until 1991, was a top-secret closed city built by the Soviets in 1946 to house the scientists, workers and all related to develop nuclear weapons. The huge Mayak nuclear plant required 15,000 people which along with families and everything needed to create a totally closed living environment meant a city of 100,000 people.
There was an article in The Guardian back in July which caught my eye and I saved the link. Suddenly this city might be important to know about. There is a personal side to this also as I learned two days ago that Tanya’s cousin, her children and grandchildren live in Ozersk. I had always thought they lived in Chelyabinsk. Even when Tanya’s cousin, daughter in law and granddaughter visited here a few years ago, nothing was ever said. The habit of secrecy is never really shed, I guess.
For the first eight years, those who were relocated to City 40 simply disappeared. They were not allowed to communicated with anyone outside the city. Their records were erased. They did not exist. Even after the rules were relaxed, they were constantly spied on and anyone even slightly suspect was driven away in a Black Maria. The city is still closed to outsiders, however citizens are free to leave with permission, even permanently, if they wish. Few wish to leave.
In exchange for their freedom, Ozersk provided private apartments, plenty of food, including delicacies unheard of the Soviet times – caviar, chocolate, bananas – good schools and health care, entertainment and cultural events, churches, restaurants, grocery stores, all beside a beautiful lake surrounded by forest. All this while the rest of the citizens suffered in abject poverty. Even today, with tree lined streets, lovely flower beds and beautiful lakes, it resembles an idyllic 1950s American town.
But the inhabitants know the truth, even though for years it was kept secret even from them. The town is dangerously highly contaminated. As the Soviet Union demanded more and more nuclear bombs faster and faster, all pretense of safety regulations was swept aside. From the late 1940s on, people began to die from radiation exposure. Radioactive waste dumped into the river (the equivalent of 4 Chernobyls) sickened and killed people downstream. Lake Irtyash contains the equivalent of 2.5 Chernobyls and is dubbed the Lake of Death or Lake Plutonium.
Early statistics are hard to come by thanks to the government's continued insistence against any elevated dangers despite all evidence to the contrary. Doctors were forbidden to mention that patients in the area had radiation poisoning; instead it was called "special disease" and the infected patients were swept under the rug, often without receiving the necessary treatments. A recent study showed that Ozersk residents are more than twice as likely to develop lung, liver and skeletal cancers and astronomically more likely to develop chronic radiation syndrome. It is so accepted that to die of radiation-related illnesses is seen as a badge of honor; a sacrifice made for the good of the people.
Ozersk was the site of the third worst nuclear disaster in history, after Fukushima and Chernobyl. Known as the Kyshtym Disaster, on Sept 29, 1957, a cooling tank overheated and the resulting explosion turned the sky purple and created a huge cloud of radioactive dust which the wind spread to the North East. Only 11,000 people were evacuated, their villages, crops and livestock destroyed out of 250,000 people in the path of the cloud. No explanations were given but it was not difficult to figure out.
The disaster was kept secret from the world until 1976 when dissident scientist, Dr. Zhores Medvedev, told the world. The CIA knew about it from almost the beginning but helped cover it up, including downplaying Dr. Medvedev’s disclosures. The CIA did not want anyone asking embarrassing questions about the Hanford Site in Washington state on which Ozersk had been modeled and a train wreck in its own right.
A very recent documentary, City 40, is available on Netflix, which unfortunately I do not have. The trailer is below, as is an interview with producer and director, Samira Goetschel. With the help of a “fixer” she entered the city undercover, interviewing and filming the people because she wanted to know about them, about how they thought and why they stayed. Even though Ozersk no longer manufactures Plutonium, but rather things like Cobalt 60, Iridium 192 and Carbon 14, the vow of secrecy still holds and some of the people Ms. Goetschel interviewed have had to flee the country to avoid arrest.
What struck me the hardest about the interview was her statement that Ozersk was a microcosm of all Russia. The double fence is not to keep them in but the rest of the world out. It is the only life they have ever known and they fear the outside. From the beginning the residents were indoctrinated with “You are the chosen ones; the saviours of the earth; everyone outside is an enemy”.
It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend how the residents of City 40 can continue to live in a place they know is slowly killing them. But a local journalist says they are not concerned with what the outside world thinks of them and their way of life. He says the majority of his fellow residents, like him, just wish to be left alone to live in “peace”. They are happy in their fenced-in paradise.