Analysis of the 1957--1958 Soviet nuclear accident

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Science  18 Jul 1980:
Vol. 209, Issue 4454, pp. 345-353
DOI: 10.1126/science.7384809


The presence of an extensive environmental contamination zone in Cheliabinsk Province of the Soviet Union, associated with an accident in the winter of 1957 to 1958 involving the atmospheric release of fission wastes, appears to have been confirmed, primarily by an analysis of the Soviet radioecology literature. The contamination zone is estimated to contain 10(5) to 10(6) curies of strontium-90 (reference radionuclide); a relatively small fraction of the total may have been dispersed as an aerosol. A plausible explanation for the incident is the use of now-obsolete techniques for waste storage and cesium-137 isotope separation. However, the source of the contamination was not unequivocally attributable to a single event, and its exact nature must await releaseo of more information by the Soviet Union. Radioactive contamination appears to have resulted in resettlement of the human population from a significant area (100 to 1000 square kilometers). It therefore seems imperative to obtain a complete explanation of the cause (or causes) and consequences of the accident; Soviet experience gained in the application of corrective measures would be invaluable to the world nuclear community.