Long before the 'Iron Curtain' started corroding from all the toxic chemicals that were being so carelessly handled back in the days of Stalin, and even further back during the Czarist times, the immensity of the former Soviet Union allowed for the environmental damage of toxic waste dumps in locations spreading from Siberia to Eastern Europe.
Toxic waste dumps
The former Soviet Union used its massive landmass to dump toxic wastes that could last for centuries into the future. Many of the dump sites have not ever been mapped, because truck drivers drove out into the forest and tundra and dumped their loads wherever was convenient. Unfortunately, many who could have provided information about the locations of the toxins have perished. They were not offered the proper protection and, in many instances, were never told of the toxicity of their cargos, which ranged from dangerous chemicals to spent fuel rods from the earliest nuclear power plants.
The country is so immense that it was long assumed that the substances discarded would never be a bother. However, the wind and flow of water have contributed greatly to the distribution of the toxins, which have invaded everything from soil and ground water to milk and other foods consumed by humans.
Oil, gas and mining industries
Other major contributors to Soviet Union environmental damage have been the oil, gas and mining industries, all of which continue to be virtually unregulated as far as pollution is concerned. Siberia is a vast repository of natural gas and oil, as well as uranium, gold and many other minerals. Waste materials have regularly been dumped near the sites of operation, on top of which, in several places, multistory apartment buildings for the thousands of workers and their families were subsequently built. Now imagine that during the short Siberian summer, the areas between the gigantic apartment buildings become the playground for thousands of children, and you have the makings of another disaster that occurs when all the children that grew up there develop immune-system disorders, cancers and other diseases.
Of course, no account of the environmental damage in the Soviet Union would be complete without mentioning what took place on that fateful day of April 26, 1986, near the city of Prypiat in the Ukraine (now an independent nation).
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a malfunction that led to arguably the worst nuclear disaster on record. The initial explosion and subsequent fire released large quantities of radioactive material for a period of about 10 days, which then spread over the western Soviet Union and parts of Eastern Europe.
No one will ever know how many died directly or indirectly. Hundreds of thousands of people are still suffering from the aftereffects of the disaster, in spite of mass evacuations that were carried out within a few weeks. Many sacrificed themselves by working in the immediate disaster zone to save the surrounding areas from the even bigger catastrophe of long-term nuclear contamination.
Aside from the human damage, thousands of mutated livestock are now roaming Russia and are multiplying at an exaggerated rate, all of them contaminated and unsuitable for consumption. The government has started a program to cull the herds both from the air and by humanely trapping them to destroy them.
During the crisis, half a million emergency workers risked their lives, and the social and economic disruption was devastating. The total cost of the accident is estimated to have exceeded 20 billion rubles, and the consequences are still being felt.