Chelyabinsk, a notorious industrial capital with a grim nuclear legacy, is planning a major clean-up operation – but only online.
The authorities in the Ural city, dubbed “Tankograd” by residents in tribute to its manufacturing centers, is willing to pay to ensure that only positive references top the online rankings.
It’s a hi-tech approach to Soviet-style propaganda, and the plan is to get the good news on to Google and Yandex, banishing problems to the foot of the table.
“I thought there was nothing left which could surprise me in the field of state procurement. But this order, announced by the Chelyabinsk directorate general of material resources, must surely infuriate any decent person,” wrote anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny in his blog.
“It’s understandable when internet shop U Ashota optimizes its search potential, so that it’s easier to find the shashlyk shop. But when an organ of state power swindles state money and wants people looking for ‘Disaster at Mayak’ to receive 80 per cent positive feedback it is simply disgusting and immoral,” he said.
That Mayak disaster, from 1957, saw a container of highly radioactive waste explode at a nuclear reprocessing plant 150 km from the city. Some experts rated the fallout as comparable with that of the Hiroshima bomb in 1945.
The contaminated area affected up to 300, 000 people across Chelyabinsk, Kurgan and Sverdlovsk regions. 200, 000 people died from radiation poisoning in the first ten days after the accident and the total body count climbed to 250, 000. It measured six on the seven-point international scale assessing radioactive disasters, with only Chernobyl and the recent Fukushima meltdown scoring higher.
However, with the Soviets jealously guarding information about their fledgling nuclear program, details of the blast were scarce – when Chernobyl caught fire in 1986 it was widely believed to be the USSR’s first nuclear accident.
he proposed online make-over could struggle to make the desired impact, though, with some saying that a 360,000 ruble ($13,000) budget just isn’t enough.
To do the job properly would cost 10 times that amount.