“City 40” documents a “hidden” city processing nuclear weapons material in Russia; the US has one, too


Name: City 40
Director, writer:  Samira Goetschel
Released:  2016
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Video
Length 72
Rating NA
Companies: D.I.G., Cinephil
Link: official site

City 40” is a compelling documentary (72 min) by Samira Goetschel, about the closed city of Ozersk (or Ozyorsk, in Chelyabinsk Oblast), Russia, in the southern Urals, housing people associated with the plutonium processing plant at Mayak.


The documentary starts by recounting the US’s own efforts to build close communities around its nuclear weapons program in the late 1940s, especially Richland WA near the Hanford reactor. There are the visual invocations about loose lips, long before the days of cyberwar.


Stalin responded by building a closed secret community for scientists called simply City 40.  He tried to make the place a paradise for the workers there, as very little travel was allowed and the city was not put on maps until after the fall of the USSR at the end of 1991.

The city sits on a large lake which has over time become polluted with radioactive waste.  There have been numerous accidents and deaths of workers and premature cancers of residents over the decades.

The film, near the end,  reviews the murder of Litvineko  (as in the 2013 film “Poisoned by Polonium”).  It also provides an unflattering portrait of the authoritarian leadership of Vladimir Putin.

The film could be compared to the short about the city Norilsk (Nickel plant), “My Deady, Beautiful City” or “The Hidden City”, reviewed here June 28.

The film seems relevant to documenting the worldwide risk from unretrieved nuclear waste, especially within Russia and the former Soviet Union.  I was under the impression that much more of this was scattered around the county, not just around this city.  Besides the NTI docudrama “The Last Best Chance”, a couple of relevant Russian films are “The Return” (set in NW Russia) and “How I Ended This Summer”, set at a monitoring point in NE Siberia.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of the closed city of Mercury, NV, P.D.  located near Las Vegas, still with a residual population.   I was last in the area in 2000.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Richland WA in the early 1950s, P.D.I was most recently near there (Yakima) in 1996.  The film says that the Soviets built Ozersk in response to our Richland, and loose lips gave away we had the city.

By Sergey Nemanov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

(Posted: Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 10:30 AM EDT)

Update: March 23, 2017

I saw the film again at the DC Environmental Film Festival at the Carnegie Science Center, paired with shorts “Nuclear Winter” and “Triad”.

I thought it was interesting that so many of the nuclear pollutants spill into the Arctic Ocean.  There is a lake near Mayak that is six times as polluted as water near Chernobyl, and Mayak seems to have the highest concentration of nuclear waste in the world. In 1994, Russia (under Yeltsin) allowed mention of Ozersk and allowed the city to be named on new birth certificates, but would not allow old ones to be changed.  Putin’s government has persecuted dissidents for speaking out against the secret cities, of which there are about 40 all over Russia (three in former republics).


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