Modules for History Lessons
Edited By Uta Fenske, Daniel Groth, Klaus-Michael Guse and Bärbel P. Kuhn
The Case of the Secret Uranium Factory in Sillamäe
Introduction to the Module
By the end of World War II, the United States demonstrated the power of nuclear bombs by attacking Japan. The USSR took this as a threat and started to make huge efforts to develop its nuclear capabilities and construct a nuclear bomb as well. At this time, only few uranium ore deposits had been found within the territory of the USSR. One of them was located on the northern coast of Estonia. In 1946, the government of the USSR decided to establish a nuclear factory in Sillamäe. In 1946–1949 workers as well as engineers came to Sillamäe from different areas of the USSR.
The raw material, graptolite argillite, contained merely a small amount of uranium, but in urgent demand, it was sufficient to start the production. Later, the raw material was imported from Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Despite the better quality ore, the working methods remained the same. The radioactive ore was transported in winter time in open railway wagons covered with water and ice. All the radioactive tailings were buried in a depository located on the coastline of the Gulf of Finland.
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