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A symbol of decay and Soviet nuclear disaster, Lake Karachay is a lake in the Ural Mountains of western Russia mainly notable as a dumping ground for nuclear waste from the USSR's Mayak facility. To prevent the wind from carrying away the dust from the rapidly drying lakebed, Karachay was filled with approaching ten thousand blocks of hollow concrete. This came too late for some: in 1968, after a drought, dust blown from the site irradiated half a million people with one hundred and eighty-five petabecquerels of radiation.

To stand at the edge of Karachay for five minutes is to acquire an eventually fatal dose of radiation: to be there for an hour would dose a visitor with six hundred Rontgen, a dose well above the five hundred Rontgen said to kill victims before the end of the day. In comparison, the heavily-contaminated Red Forest in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is said to deliver a single Rontgen an hour.

Though Chernobyl's shadow hangs large and vivid in the imagining of nuclear disasters, Karachay holds the crown as the most contaminated, and one of the most deadly locations on the face of the planet.


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