The word "ringing" in the language of atomic scientists means the sound signal used by the Geiger counter to alert you of an elevated radiation level. Radiation is emitted during the decay of an atom. It is invisible and cannot be felt or recognized without special instruments, but it can have a devastating effect on nature and humans. New kinds of weapons and the threat of nuclear war became the terrible force that in the twentieth century had a decisive influence on the political map of the world, destroying and forcing the construction of new cities. A huge price was paid for the possession of this power in the middle of the last century. The legacy of the atomic twentieth century remains ringing to this day.
The Soviet atomic project was carried out here, in the South Urals. The first weapons-grade plutonium reactor in the USSR was built here, and the first atomic bomb was created here. In the late 1940s – early 1950s, it was important at all costs to achieve parity with the U.S. nuclear weapons, so the issues of radiation safety were not in the first place. Highly radioactive waste was dumped into the Techa River Cascade, on the banks of which tens of thousands of people lived. Because of the secrecy, people were not aware of the danger they were putting themselves and their families in by using the river water to irrigate their gardens and cook food. In 1957 there was an explosion of radioactive waste, the consequences of which were comparable to the worst radiation disasters of the twentieth century. In 1967, the wind blew radioactive waste stored in Lake Karachay into dozens of nearby communities.
The theme of the exhibition was the price that had to be paid by people who, due to different life circumstances, were involved in the nuclear project and experienced the consequences associated with its implementation. These people paid for it with their lives and health. They are not only the Mayak PA workers and liquidators of the 1957 accident, but also all inhabitants of surrounding settlements, who were exposed to high radiation, as well as those, who were forced to leave their homes and were among the resettlers. I dedicate my exhibition to them.
The exposition is built like a museum. The exhibits are found photographs and testimonies, which arouse some really strong feelings from me. I would like the viewer, who is not at all familiar with the topic, to be able to make connections between the sections of the exhibition and assemble the overall picture on their own. The very place where the exhibition takes place is directly related to the atomic project. It is the dormitory of the secret "Laboratory B," which dealt with radiobiology and isotope production. The laboratory employed Russian scientists from prisoners, hired specialists, prisoners of war, German specialists interned from Germany, and special settlers.
The history of the Soviet nuclear project in the Urals seems to me to be immensely long. In addition, a large amount of information related to nuclear production is still classified. Closed cities are still closed. Locals are either not willing to make contact at all, or are very cautious and not ready to share their memories. I used already published memoirs and research to create this exhibition. (Pavel Otdelnov)