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Maiak 1957 and its Aftermath

Radiation Knowledge and Ignorance in the Soviet Union

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As the Soviet Union entered into the era of nuclear modernity, the need for a public health response to the dangers associated with nuclear technologies became increasingly salient. Based on published sources and literature and on hitherto not exploited archival documents, this article undertakes a historical analysis of the institutionalization and the regulation of Soviet radiation safety and the development of scientific infrastructures of radiation knowledge production. Specialized research institutes were founded in response to the environmental contamination in the vicinity of military nuclear sites in the Urals, in particular Cheliabinsk-40. However, both the evolving research field of radiation hygiene and the Radiological Groups, introduced in 1958 to enforce radiation safety, were characterized by notorious deficiencies. To mitigate the lack of trained specialists within the Radiological Groups, specialized education and training institutions were established. Despite insufficient equipment and training, the period of the late 1950s and 1960s in the Soviet Union is one in which a more scientific approach to defining the dangers of the atom prevailed over the initial naïve use of nuclear energy. However, the requirements of radiation safety were often at odds with the ubiquitous and deeply entrenched regime of secrecy concerning all forms of radiation knowledge production. This resulted in withholding research in a way that became most obvious during the Chernobyl catastrophe.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2018

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  • The Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas ("East European History") present the discipline in its entire breadth; for thematically focused articles the emphasis lies on the territory of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union. A double-blind review process with international experts ensures adherence to the annals' recognized high quality standards. An extensive section devoted to reviews informs the reader about current trends in German and international research. In addition, the editorial board publishes an electronic review supplement under the title jgo.e-reviews at
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