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Press release of WECF member - planet of hopes

"Mayak" used 2,000 pregnant women in dangerous clean up of nuclear disaster

02.11.2006 |Sascha Gabizon

October 30, 2006


Last week Ecodefense revealed new documents confirming the fact of employment of pregnant women in the Chelyabinsk region of Russia to liquidate the consequences of 1957 nuclear accident at "Mayak" nuclear facility, and the contamination of nearby Techa river in 1950s. Activists said they obtained documents as a result of own investigation. According to Ecodefense, more than 2,000 of pregnant "Mayak" workers participated in clean up efforts and researches related to radioactive contamination.

A year ago Sophia Zubareva, who worked for "Mayak" in 1950s (at that time tons of liquid radioactive waste were being dumped into Techa river) while being pregnant, came to the activists and told her story. Ms.Zubareva said she worked as a researcher taking samples in 1952, was pregnant and all management knew about it. Her job was to take samples from radioactive Techa river on a daily basis. As a result, she got radiation sickness when her pregnancy term was already big.

When Sophia's daughter was born, "Mayak" management advised her "to forget everything". Soon, daughter became ill and suffered from various deceases. Finally, Ms. Zubareva decided to get official confirmation that her daughter' sickness related to radiation exposure from Techa river where facility dumped radwaste. But officials said daughter of Ms. Zubareva is not on the list of people who participated in clean up or researches back in 1950s.

During a year, activists has been collecting documents for applying to court on Ms. Zubareva case. At that time, she and her daughter died. And it was proven officially that the death of daughter was cased by intra-uterine irradiation. While collecting documents for that case, activists found information on more than 2,000 pregnant women who had been involved in activities on radioactively polluted territories.

According to Nadezhda Kutepova who heading Ecodefense' branch in Ozyorsk, the home-town for "Mayak" facility, two court cases already started in efforts to help other victims of the Soviet nuclear legacy. Both cases related to women who were exposed to radiation in mother's wombs. "Mayak" was always under protection of secret services like KGB, as a part of Soviet nuclear weapon industry. And women still afraid of speaking up publicly, Kutepova said. Their mothers have also been hiding the fact of irradiation during pregnancy during their lives.

So far, during the court hearings the representatives of "Mayak" and Rosatom (Russian agency for atomic power) insist that women can not be accepted as victims because they did not exist at the time of radiation exposure. "Ecodefense' goal is to make the fact of irradiation of pregnant women public and widely known. If local court does not want to recognize them as victims, we will go further and reach Supreme court and European court on human rights. This is very important because "Mayak" is still dumping radioactive waste to nearby rivers, and there are still people who gets exposed to radiation every minute right now. If we will succeed to help victims of the past, it will be great help to those who suffer today and still afarid to speak up. Nuclear industry should pay for the enormous damage it has already caused and still causes to the country's citizens", said Valdimir Slivyak, co-chairman for Ecodefense.

The river Techa has been largely polluted in 1950s with liquid radioactive waste from "Mayak" nuclear facility. Four villages - Musljumovo, Brodokalmak, Russkaya Techa and Nizhnepetropavlovskiy - still located along radioactive river. Under pressure from Ecodefense, Rosatom decided in 2006 to resettle part of residents living on contaminated ground. Activists still demands to take away all of the victims. On September 29, 1957 the tank with nuclear waste exploded at "Mayak": 20 million Ci of radiation was released to the environment.