Mineral Policy Institute Case Study: Russia

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

In 1992, the Russian government disclosed the fact that a nameless mine on the outskirts of Baley, a small gold mining town in far east Russia, was a uranium mine which provided the material for the Soviet Union’s first nuclear bomb. The zone is now an environmental disaster.

According to a Japanese newspaper, the Yomiri Daily, “Not one person in Baley knew the nature of the operation at No. 1804 [the uranium mine]. Cattle grazed on luscious grass covering the lethal uranium tailings, and a car repair shop was housed in a former thorium storage facility. Worse, radioactive white sand was taken from uranium pits to build homes, nurseries, schools and the hospital. Some people live in houses with radiation 10 times the level regarded as safe in Russia.”

Until recently, the 1997 article reported, children’s plays were put on in the Palace of Culture which has a radiation level 42 times the safe level. This is the same degree of contamination found in cars leaving Chernobyl immediately after the 1986 accident.

According to the East Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, more than 95% of Baley’s children are mentally deficient. Rates of stillbirth are five times the Russian average, child mortality is 2.5 times higher and Downs Syndrome is 4 times the national average.

“I can say that I am healthy,” the Japanese newspaper reports a resident, Yevgenny Survia as saying, “but everyone else in my family has been affected by radiation and my grandson is an invalid. My youngest daughter couldn’t speak until she was five. She can’t hear well, she has heart disease and a growth on her cheek. We took her to a doctor in Krasnoyarsk. They measured her hair—it was radioactive. The doctor told us to go back where we came from.” Survia lives in an apartment with a radiation level 10 times the national average.

From the Mineral Policy Institute Backgrounder #10: Uranium.