Kyshtym Nuclear Disaster

Gracia Mahoney
May 20, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Map of the East Urals Radioactive Trace (EURT): area contaminated by the Kyshtym disaster. [5,6] (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Kyshtym accident took place on September 29, 1957 and is named after the center of population in which the accident took place. [1,2] The nuclear plant, the Mayak reprocessing plant, was used to separate Plutonium. [1,2] The release occurred in a very short period of time. Only about 10% of the products were released into the air; about 90% deposited into the vicinity of the waste storage facility. [2]

Kyshtym Accident

The explosion in the Kyshtym Nuclear accident was due to a malfunction in the cooling system. This affected the radioactive waste of the plant. [3] The explosion of radioactive waste was composed of dry nitrate and acetate salts in a tank. [1] A northwest wind then carried the radioactive materials through the Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, and Tyumen regions in only 11 hours after the accident omitted 2 × 107 Ci of radioactive substances into the atmosphere. [3] Isotopes released included Ce-144, Zr-95, and Sr-90. [1] The Sr-90 is a long-lived radioactive isotope that led to long-term radiological hazards. All the other components were short-lived and decayed within about 5 years. [1]

According the Norman, the radioactive contamination that occurred in this accident was due to Soviet carelessness coupled with general disregard for citizenry and the environment. [4] The contamination of the regions resulted in the displacement of thousands of people: About 600 people in the first 7-10 days following the accident, then 6,480 people during the following year, then 3,100 people moved out of their homes in the second year. [3] Most of the information about the accident came from the original Soviet repost to the IAEA. [2] This illustrates the difficulty of reporting of nuclear accidents across countries and governments.


Nuclear accidents can cause many health risks to populations affected by the accident. As seen in the Kyshtym accident, many people are displaced in order to shield from long term damage. However, in order to protect these people in potentially dangerous areas, there needs to be set ethical guidelines in order to make sure information is accurate and properly dispensed. This is the responsibility of the government to set regulation in order to standardize procedures after an accident, and most importantly try to prevent one from occurring.

© Gracia Mahoney. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] G. N. Romanov, B. V. Nikipelov, and E. G. Grozhko, "The Kyshtym Accident: Causes, Scale and Radiation Characteristics," in Proceedings of Seminar on Comparative Assessment of Environmental Impact of Radionuclides Released During Three Major Nuclear Incidents: Kyshtym, Windscale, Chernobyl, Vol 1, Commission of the European Communities, EUR-13574(V1), October 1990, p. 25.

[2] S. Jones, "Windscale and Kyshtym: A Double Anniversary," J. Environ. Radioactiv. 99, 1 (2006).

[3] L. I. Privalova et al., "An Approach to Detecting Delayed Effects of Radioactive Contamination on Industrial-Urban-Area Dwellers," Environ. Health Persp. 102, 470 (1994).

[4] C. Norman, "Soviet Radwaste Spill Confirmed," Science 216, 274 (1982).

[5] "The Kyshtym Accident, 29th September 1957," Norwegian Radiation Protection Agency, August 2007.

[6] S. Buttinger, "The Kyshtym Disaster," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017.