Following the success of Chernobyl, it’s clear people want to learn more about man-made disasters which raise weighty questions about ethics and human nature.
Viewers were left captivated by Chernobyl, which prove to be a scarier watch than any horror movie. The events unravelling on-screen were far too real, haunting the people of Ukraine to this day.
With the conclusion of the five part miniseries, people are now rifling through the history books to see what other calamities are ripe for further exploration.
A Reddit thread, entitled ‘If HBO’s Chernobyl was a series with a new disaster every season, what event would you like to see covered?’, highlights the understandable fascination people have with these darker aspects of human history.
The thread quickly provoked plenty of lively discussion, with commenters suggesting horrifying incidents such as the Walkerton Water Tragedy and the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, Bhopal and the Halifax Explosion.
This thread makes for interesting yet heartbreaking reading, reminding us how many times human error and carelessness has led to tragedy on a nightmarish scale.
There is one catastrophe, noted by multiple Reddit users, which would be the perfect follow up to Chernobyl: the Kyshtym disaster. Less well known than the events of Chernobyl, the Kyshtym and the harrowing events which followed deserve greater media attention.
The catastrophic event took place in 1957, deep in the Ural Mountains. It was decades before the events at Chernobyl, during a time of shifting geopolitical tensions in the ongoing Cold War.
The last thing the Soviet Union would have wanted was for the world to know about a disastrous nuclear accident on Russian soil.
During this tumultuous time, unregulated containers containing nuclear reactive waste were being buried in the closed city of Ozyorsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast, constructed around the secretive Mayak plant.
The waste containers hadn’t been buried very deep – just 25 metres below the earth – and nuclear scientists failed to heed warnings about disposing of the waste in such a sloppy and dangerous manner. This oversight would ultimately prove fatal.
A malfunctioning cooling system in a buried tank containing two hundred and fifty cubic meters of volatile liquid uranium waste was the ticking time bomb which would lead to the catastrophe.
For over a year, radioactive decay caused the liquid reactor waste to grow steadily hotter, eventually reaching temperatures of around 350 °C (660 °F). On September 29, 1957, the 160-ton concrete cover burst, with the tank exploding with the force of 70 to 100 tons of dynamite.
This sent a vast cloud of radioactive dust and material up into the air, with strong winds blowing the cloud for many hundreds of miles around the surrounding area.
The material covered an area of 20,000 square kilometres, according to Friends of the Earth International. Even though 270,000 people lived within this area, just 11,000 were evacuated, with the evacuation process taking two years.
If you like more horrific nuclear disasters you should look into Kyshtym disaster. pic.twitter.com/voCeeEpBRO
— TLC (@TLCeesay) June 5, 2019
Conscript soldiers, including schoolchildren, were involved in the clean-up efforts, which violated exposure standards were violated and exceeded maximum exposure limits. Many of the clean-up workers would suffer from radiation doses greater than 100 Roentgen.
This disaster resulted in significant long-term contamination problems within the region. Many people still live within affected areas, without having received any compensation for their trauma.
Officially numbers reveal more over 500,000 people, excluding military personnel, were exposed to radiation. The total number of fatalities can never be known, with the event having been cloaked in mystery for so very long.
According to History.com, an 200 people died of cancer due to radiation exposure, with potentially thousands more having suffered from related illnesses.
Just learned about the kyshtym disaster. Dang it's interesting, secret cities, nuclear waste exploding and causing massive radioactive storms, CIA and Soviet union keeping it a secret. These cool and interesting stories are so fun to learn about.
This is why I like history.
— Ovenmuffins (@Oven_muffins) July 11, 2019
Although scattered reports of this disaster reached Western press from around 1958, it was not until 1976 that it became widely known about, when exiled Soviet scientist Zhores A. Medvedev wrote about it in the New Scientist.
In spite of evidence to the contrary, the Soviet Union denied the Kyshtym disaster had even happened until 1989. However, even after this long overdue confession, officials continued to play down just how damaging it had been. The Mayak plant is still, shockingly, in operation.
After the Kyshtym disaster was confirmed to the global community, it measured as a Level 6 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), making it the third-most serious nuclear accident in history.
The only two catastrophes which have been given a more severe measurement have been the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the Chernobyl disaster, both of which received a Level 7 on the INES.
Nuclear historian, Alex Wellerstein, told UNILAD about what he believes makes this case so very interesting:
Aside from the kind of straightforward aspects of Kyshtymn (government secrecy, huge radiological accident that almost nobody has heard about, etc.), to me one of the real interesting take-aways is that Kyshtymn was a nuclear disaster that didn’t involve either a nuclear weapon going off or a nuclear power plant melting down.
Rather, it was on the “back end” of the nuclear fuel cycle, which most people don’t know even really exists, much less has its own potential for accidents and problems.
This isn’t an anti-nuclear statement, but it is a “nuclear is only possibly a good idea if you do it responsibly” statement. It is also a reminder that the “nuclear world” is much larger than what most people think it is.
Because I’m super exciting now, I have been studying the two largest (cat 7) nuclear disasters in history, Fukushima and Chernobyl, the Kyshtym disaster and the partial meltdown of three mile island and I am officially addicted to learning about nuclear power.
— chrisTINE (@aussienflgal) February 25, 2019
It’s almost unbelievable that so many people are unaware of this catastrophe, or about how it was denied by the Soviet Union for so long. There are so many factors to explore in this terrifying tale, and so many voices left unheard.
Surely it’s time for TV executives to tell the stories of those whose lives were uprooted – and in many cases destroyed – by this most secretive of nuclear disasters?
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.