Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Kyshtym Disaster (wikipedia.org)
60 points by ZeljkoS 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments

The cavalier dumping of waste into lakes and rivers is wild to think about. I was recently reading about various mid-century plans to dam or widen the Bering strait in order to intentionally melt the Arctic. It’s astonishing how humanity viewed and treated our ecosystem so recently in our history.

I lived near Los Alamos, NM which was the site of the Manhattan Project. I was looking to rent a building for an art studio and one of the places I looked at was across the street from a large empty lot with a chain link fence, wrapped in green canvas. I looked into this and it had been a primary dump for nuclear weapons development in the 40s - barrels in unlined trenches, buried about 20-40 feet deep. They recently cleaned it up at the cost of a couple billion, if I recall.


Then I looked into what was on the end of that road - a radioactive metal milling facility which discharged waste water containing various toxic radioactive metals directly off a cliff into the desert (it's also a very beautiful area). They recently cleaned that up and the metal plume went down over 500 feet. In fact, all wastewater from the labs went to a central area in town (now an ecological park) and was simply dumped into the stream. The old metal mill area is now being redeveloped for housing. I asked a nuclear scientist I knew if he'd feel comfortable living there, and he said "Sure! I mean, you might want to get a geiger counter".

Then, I realized I was living 3/4 of a mile from the large material disposal area which is currently the lab's main waste dump - TA 54 I believe?


Reading about all the areas there and what is public about what they've stored was somewhat disturbing. Most of it was stored with very little documentation. But, the scientists and employees don't have any problem with living in town. From what I gather they stopped dumping waste carelessly in the 60s. I think they have it under control at this point, but there continues to be debate about long-term storage.

> The old metal mill area is now being redeveloped for housing. I asked a nuclear scientist I knew if he'd feel comfortable living there, and he said "Sure! I mean, you might want to get a geiger counter".

Radioactivity is, funnily, one of the easier human health hazards to manage for precisely this reason - by definition, it's (generally) detectable. Not as easily as, say, a bear, but easier than a virion or most regular chemical contaminants.

Plus, radionuclides don't actively evolve.

I have been fantasizing about a Covid-19 dosimeter - something that would indicate whether an indoor space is safe. It's fun to think about what kind of technology would be completely transformative for our pandemic response, if only it were cheap enough to be widespread.

A first pass at that would be a CO2 dosimeter.

Because humans breathe out CO2, and if the ventilation in the area is poor relative to the number of humans inside of it, then you will get a higher concentration of CO2, and thus you would also be more likely to have a higher concentration of viruses and other substances that can be airborne.

Just because you have high CO2 doesn’t necessarily mean that you have high concentrations of the virus particles that could cause a COVID infection, but there is a high correlation, and high CO2 is bad for you in plenty of other ways as well.

So, yes please — give me a cheap, portable, badge-like way of measuring my exposure to high levels of CO2!

not seen wearable ones, but CO2 indicators for classrooms, offices, ... have been a widely promoted thing for this reason, with plenty commercial and DIY options.

> It's fun to think about what kind of technology would be completely transformative for our pandemic response, if only it were cheap enough to be widespread.

If people stayed home and followed some basic precautions it would be pretty effective.

I say this from New Zealand, with covid finally having a foothold and community spread escalating, seemingly from non-compliance.

If there’s one thing we learned with this entire pandemic, it is that expecting humans to take precautions and comply indefinitely is just not reasonable policy, in particular when the threat is invisible and evolves “slowly” (months instead of minutes). Same applies to other kinds of threats: everyone knows they should eat healthy, avoid sugar, etc. everyone knows people die to diabetes every day. People systemically still don’t care. (I’m not comparing the morality of spreading a virus vs dying if a disease that only affects you, just using the example as more evidence on how humans deal with threats and how self-compliance-based policies tend to always fail)

There might be a colony of the virus on a surface, or in a few air-born droplets hanging out in the room. If your device didn't happen to sample those particular droplets or surfaces, you'd never know they were there.

True, there are multiple methods for transmitting the viral particles in question, but contact transmission would require that you actually come into contact with the surface in question. I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but I believe that contact transmission is considered fairly rare for COVID.

Moreover, having a partial solution to the problem is better than no solution at all.

What's truly wild to think about is how eagerly and relatively easily humans completely shaped nature to our desires until recently, and now an uncomfortably large number of people today think any obvious harm being done to the planet is completely natural and humans are too small and insignificant to be a factor.

We went from being a few steps away from actively melting the Arctic, to people saying humans couldn't possibly melt ice.

And they segue straight from "humans couldn't possibly influence climate" to "and if there's a problem we can fix it with technology" with a straight face.

Some Russian statesmen propose that Russia stands to gain from global warming. The radiation from the most polluted lake in the world dried up and blew away. I wager that happens again.

Where did it blow away to? What you're describing sounds to me like a plume of radioactive dust drifting across and mostly settling on a huge area down wind of the lake. Who lives there, or eats agricultural produce from there?

According to Wikipedia, half a million people irradiated from caesium and strontium isotopes in 1968. Sounds like it happened just as you describe. The headwaters of the Kama, Tobol and Ural rivers run through this part of Russia. We know that caesium from Fukushima was detectable in Canada. That was a #7, this was a #6.


I'm a little angry at the lack of coverage of Eastern European history in most US schools. I never learned of this, and I consider myself relatively well informed on nuclear issues. Looks like I need to reassess that.

Second worst nuclear incident by radioactivity released -- 66 diagnosed cases of chronic radiation syndrome, estimated 200 additional cases of cancer.

Amazing when you compare with just coal mining deaths and premature death estimate from coal fired electricity generation over the years. It boggles the mind how the fossil fuel / environmentalist lobby anti-nuclear fear propaganda ever took hold in total absence of fact, but I have to hand it to them.

The key is to create your toxic plume slowly over decades instead of in a big showy bang


That single coal power station explosion I found on the first page of search killed more people than the Chernobyl explosion.

You joke, but the real key is to buy governments, advertising, and "activists".

If notable estimates of Chernobyl are 50 (official) - 4000 (UN), you’re expecting this coal accident’s toll to rise above the 32 reported?

No just the deaths immediately caused by the explosions.

If we want to compare the total scale of each disaster from start to finish, in terms of premature deaths then the coal disaster begins the day the boilers were fired up.


I think you’re right. Not to sound crass, but a coal plant that explodes (and isn’t rebuilt) seems healthier than one lasting 30 years.

How did you conclude that it killed more people than the Chernobyl explosion?

Because it apparently killed between 32 and 43 depending what you read. 31 people died as an immediate result of Chernobyl.

Long term radiation from Chernobyl may kill anywhere from 100 to thousands of premature deaths, but I also don't count the continual nuclear and chemical disaster that is a normally operating coal power plant or its contribution to premature deaths, let alone its contribution to climate change. Only the deaths as a direct result of the explosion, just to go a little easier on coal.

> fear propaganda ever took hold in total absence of fact,

i mean, isn't that like exactly how it is always done?

> It boggles the mind how the fossil fuel / environmentalist lobby anti-nuclear fear propaganda ever took hold in total absence of fact

The broad public was introduced to the atomic age by wiping out tens of thousands and humankind had to live for decades under the prospect of a sudden nuclear holocaust with no way to do anything about it. I would not be so quick to blame people alone for rejecting this „atomic age“. In my opinion the history of „nuclear“ is one PR/image fuckup after the other. This is absolutely a problem of its own making.

I‘m physicist, I think that nuclear would be a nice addition in our carbon-free energy toolbox but I also understand why the public opinion is what it is - especially in Germany which was designated playground of nuclear superpowers during the Cold War.

I wasn't quick to blame people alone because I didn't blame them at all. What's more, your idea that atomic bombings of Japan was behind the irrational nuclear scare is incorrect.

From https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221462962...

Opinion polls in the 1950s and 1960s showed remarkably high approval of nuclear power [25], [38], [39], [40]. Attitudes regarding construction near a poll respondent’s residence were also positive, with multiple surveys showing majority or plurality approval [15].

I mostly blame the fossil fuel lobby and the anti nuclear "environmentalist" movement.

Sure, because these numbers are guaranteed to be 100% accurate and no one would have any interest in under-counting them.

Fossil fuel industry on the other hand, is a bastion of ethics and integrity and would never stoop so low. Good point.

Are reactors, that are not meant to produce nuclear weapons, safer or is it just coincidence?

I have Ukrainian relatives who survived Chernobyl. They are physics professors, who to this day - - are very nervous of anything emitting radioactivity.

They even refused to view a small alpha particle device I bought from United nuclear that had only a tiny piece of uranium ore from Canada inside it (virtually all alpha particles emitted)

Still better than coal and our only hope for a carbon-neutral future

atleast until we create an artificial star on earth ( i.e. viable fusion reactor )

no no no no no! no! we have the spicy rocks now! there is literally nothing wrong with fission. we can't stand here dying while we wait for non-existent technology to save us we needed more spicy rock reactors like, 50 years ago.

even if we agree that safety is guaranteed.. there is the fact that it would take a lot of dirty energy to build all the reactors and to source the uranium.. that is.. potential payoff has a upper bound unlike in fusion

We have viable fusion, today:

Renewables are fusion at a distance.


As a high school senior, I went to visit a college back in 1973. I visited a lab where they were playing around with approaches to fusion reactors, a Tokamak IIRC. Today, 48 years later, we're not really any closer than we were in 1973.

But today we do have both wind energy and PV energy. Commercially viable fusion. We should embrace it.

IMO the energy needed to manufacture, install and operate all the wind turbines and PV panels would approx cancel out the benefits of renewables ( do we even have that quantity of raw materials readily available ? or would it take an asteroid or two ? )

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact