The Uranium Enrichment Factory in Sillamäe (Kombinat 7)

​A highly secret industrial enterprise, the products of which were used in making Soviet nuclear weapons

Originally planned in Narva, the factory was built in Sillamäe with the help of forced labour after WW II. During the initial years the living conditions were appalling and mortality among the workers high. The enormous costs of the Sillamäe building site were probably one of the reasons why the historic centre of Narva could not be rebuilt. As part of the Soviet nuclear weapons programme, it was intended to extract uranium in northeast Estonia from Dictyonema shale. This proved to be economically nonviable; until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the factory was instead used solely for enrichment of uranium mined elsewhere. The uranium enriched in Sillamäe was also used in making the first Soviet nuclear bomb (1949). The factory could have caused an ecological catastrophe of the scale of Chernobyl and would have poisoned the eastern part of the Baltic Sea with nuclear waste had there been a major accident. Because of security issues, Sillamäe was one of many ‘closed towns’ in the Soviet Union from which outsiders without special permits were banned but which provided better conditions of life and provisions of goods for the inhabitants, nearly all of whom were Russian speakers brought in from other parts of the USSR.

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