Why Lake Karachay in Russia is one of the most dangerous lakes in the world

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In Russia, in the southern Ural mountains, you can find Lake Karachay, sometimes spelled Lake Karachai or Karachaj. But you certainly won’t be tempted to go for a paddle, as this the most polluted lake on the planet at present, and thus one of the most dangerous lakes in the world. 

Only 45 hectares in size and not very deep, Lake Karachay in the Tcheliabinsk region in Russia (1,500 km east of Moscow), is the most polluted area in the world, according to a report on nuclear waste, published by American institute Worldwatch. This is due to radioactive waste. In fact, in 1949, a storage and treatment plant was commissioned very near the lake, and all of the radioactive waste was buried in the lake.

It was said that in the 1990s, if someone stayed on its banks for more than an hour, they would be exposed to 600 roentgens of radiation, leading to certain death. The lake in fact accumulated 4.44 exabecquerels (or EBz, a unit of measuring radionuclides) of radioactivity over the years. This makes the area as dangerous as Chernobyl, in which the explosion of reactor number 4 in 1986 released between 5 and 12 exabecquerels into the atmosphere.

A period of drought in the 1960s led to drying out of certain parts of the lake, which contributed to certain extremely harmful radioactive isotopes, such as cesium-137 and strontium-90, being exposed to the fresh air and to sunlight. In 1967, violent winds also swept the area, spreading radioactive dust over an area of around 2,700 km². In total, this event caused irradiation of no less than 500,000 people, without counting the number of people put at risk. Following these events, and in response to the discontent of the local people living near the area, the authorities decided to respond. During the 1980s, around 10,000 concrete blocks were thus placed on the floor of the lake, in the hope that they would act as a barrier and stop harmful elements from rising to the surface.

However, the effects of radioactive waste on humans are still being felt. According to an article in Ouest France, since this waste was first stored, “congenital anomalies increased by 25% and leukeamia by 41%”, and the number of cancers in workers and residents in the region has increased by 21%.