“Around PORTS, plutonium, and plutonium isotopes, which are far more dangerous than uranium, are now being picked up government air monitors. An independent study by Dr. Michael Ketterer at Northern Arizona University confirmed plutonium isotopes were found in river sediment and in dust collected from homes surrounding the Southern Ohio facility.
When Nadezda learned that information, she was stunned to learn America would accept anything from Mayak…”
MAYAK AND THE CLOSED CITY
With a simple phrase typed in the search bar of Google Earth, a massive nuclear complex in Russia’s Ural Mountains comes into full view.
From the beginning, the Mayak Production Association – or simply, “Mayak,” played a critical role in providing plutonium for the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal.
For more than four decades it was on the front lines of the atomic efforts in Russia, while very little was known about this once-secret facility.
Nadezda Kutepova grew up in the shadow of Mayak in Ozersk, a city as secret as the plant itself.
“I named myself a daughter of ‘Closed City,’” Nadezda explained during a Zoom interview from Paris, where she has lived since 2015.
FROM PROPAGANDA TO FLEEING TO FRANCE
As a young girl, Nadezda says she believed in the Soviet propaganda about the plant and its role for Russia and the world. After all, many of her family members worked at Mayak, including her father.
“We created plutonium for the nuclear bomb,” Nadezda explained, adding, “So, we saved all the world.”
But Nadezda’s simple, patriotic view of Mayak would grow darker and more complex. She says she began to connect the facility at the center of her community to contamination and cancer that surrounded her.
Nadezda explained that many of her relatives died from cancers and diseases associated with radiation, including her father, who she says died of stomach cancer.
She breathed deeply and said, “It’s very hard memories in my childhood.
Dozens of nuclear accidents at Mayak are well-documented, including a massive explosion in 1957 that irradiated thousands of square miles.
Near the Mayak facility, Karachay, which was a reservoir used in Mayak’s production, is still listed by Guinness World Records as, “The most radioactive lake (ever), even though the lake no longer exists. Lake Karachay was filled in with concrete and covered in dirt to seal the contamination it contained.
As Nadezda began to realize the horror that surrounded her, she began to alert others to the dangers. For that, she says Russian authorities charged her with espionage, forcing her to flee to France.
“I was threatened by 20 years of prison,” Nadezda said in a matter-of-fact tone.
FROM SOVIET SECRET TO AN AMERICAN DEAL
After playing a critical role in the Soviet nuclear complex, Mayak became central to an American deal.
Starting in 1994, Mayak was one of four sites, critical to a US program, dubbed, “Swords to Ploughshares,” or “Megatons to Megawatts,” where Soviet nuclear warheads were dismantled, converted to uranium and thousands of tons of that radioactive material were shipped to the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant, commonly referred to as PORTS, in Piketon, Ohio.
Jeff Walburn, who was a top-level security inspector and anti-terrorism responder at PORTS, spent nearly three decades researching government documents and says the Russian radioactive material sent to Ohio was contaminated with plutonium and other dangerous impurities.
“It was the worst of the worst,” Walburn said.
A General Accounting Office (GAO) report “includes a map that shows PORTS as the only facility directly receiving the radioactive material from Russia, as well as the four Russian sites where the radioactive material originated, including Mayak.”
JEFF WALBURN: “It was the dumping ground for the Soviet Union because it was already so contaminated.”
DUANE POHLMAN: “This is the place where we got our stuff from?”
JEFF WALBURN: “That’s who we got in bed with.”
In a transcript from a 1994 meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the CEP of America’s now-privatized nuclear industry admitted, “Initial testing (of the Russian material) revealed excess supplies of plutonium” and other dangerous elements.
In 1996, the same CEO told the NRC the Russians asked, “Would you mind if we gaveout-of-spec material?”
When asked what out-of-spec meant, the CEO told the NRC the Russians said, “Well, it has plutonium in it.”
Despite that, the CEO of America’s nuclear industry assured the NRC, “Everything they (Russians) have delivered has been well within specification.”
Despite the assurances, the GAO issued a report in 1999 stating, “… one-third of the shipments from 1995 to 1998 were not subject to transparency measures”
Around PORTS, plutonium, and plutonium isotopes, which are far more dangerous than uranium, are now being picked up government air monitors.
In addition, an independent study by Dr. Michael Ketterer at Northern Arizona University confirmed plutonium isotopes were found in river sediment and in dust collected from homes surrounding the Southern Ohio facility.
When Nadezda learned that information, she was stunned to learn America would accept anything from Mayak.
“I have never heard that they transported the nuclear materials which could contaminate American soil. And for me, I’m very surprised,” she said.
RUSSIA GOT THE BETTER OF US?
While Russia isn’t the only source of dangerous elements at PORTS, it’s clear shipments from Mayak and other former Soviet facilities did appear to include trace amounts of plutonium.
That revelation is causing Walburn and others to question whether the contamination and cancers in their communities here in America are connected to Russia.
DUANE POHLMAN: Do you think Russia got the better of us?
JEFF WALBURN: They got the better of us!
US DOE INSISTS THERE IS NO PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT
FULL STATEMENT RECEIVED JUST BEFORE AIR:
“Megatons to Megawatts” was an enormous nonproliferation success that made Ohio and the nation safer, not just because it secured hundreds of tons of weapons-grade uranium that could have fallen into the hands of terrorists or black marketeers, but because it was accomplished while protecting the health and safety of the public and delivering low-carbon electricity to millions of American homes and businesses. The shipments were of low-enriched uranium, not plutonium. There is no evidence over the 20 years of safely implementing the program to substantiate the claim that plutonium of any amount that would be significant for public health and safety was part of these shipments.
Shipments to Portsmouth as part of the program were subject to strict quality requirements – not just to keep the public safe, but also to ensure Russia lived up to its obligations. The implementing contract required all low-enriched uranium to meet the American Society for Testing and Materials specifications for safe handling in the United States. Samples for all shipments of Russian-origin uranium were analyzed by the United States and Russian executive agents (USEC, now Centrus, and Tenex respectively) for the Agreement to confirm that they met all necessary health, safety, and technical specifications.
The Department of Energy has conducted extensive environmental testing, both as ongoing monitoring of cleanup activities at Portsmouth and in response to specific community concerns about the potential for contamination. As the publicly available data shows, that extensive testing, conducted by experts from DOE’s national labs with expertise in radiological monitoring and response, has detected no signs of plutonium or related elements above what we would normally expect to find in the natural environment.