Bilibino

Bilibino (166° E 68° N) is a district administrative center of the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug. The town is located on the shore of Bol'shoy Keperveem River—a tributary of Malyi Anyuy River in the Kolyma Basin. At first it was a settlement of geologists and miners named Karalveyem, which in Chukchi means "reindeer corral." In 1956, at the wish of residents, it was renamed after the geologist Yuri Bilibin who had studied gold deposits in Kolyma Basin and predicted a rich gold-bearing province there.

The population of Bilibino was approximately 7000 in 2001. Russians predominated, although the population included many Ukrainians and a small number of Chukchi, Even, and other indigenous people. Bilibino's primary activities have been connected to the Geological Survey, an ore-processing plant, a mechanical plant, and the nuclear power plant. Bilibino has two schools, a hospital, and many of its residents work in the district administration, service, trade, and construction fields of employment.

The town originated in 1928 when a small geological party of eight men and a caravan of packed horses, led by young Yuri Bilibin, started from the shore of the Okhotsk sea inland to study the Kolyma Basin. Bilibin had not anticipated that his success would fuel what would become Dal'stroy, the Soviet Union's slave labor camp system at Kolyma and a sinister predecessor to Auschwitz. Hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, interned at Dal'stroy, were destined to dig frozen earth in search for gold. Bilibin's geological prognosis was proven in 1940 and later, in 1953 and 1955, gold was discovered in the Karalveem river valley where Bilibino is located.

The Bilibino region also features deposits of copper, platinum, and coal. In 1955, a medical center and airport opened in the settlement. In 1958, Bilibino received the town status and in 1961 became a district center. The floating diesel power station "Polar Light" —the first then in the Far North—provided the town's electricity. In 1965, the government decided to build the Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant, which first produced electricity in 1974. By 1976 four nuclear reactors were completed.

The town climate is extremely harsh: temperatures reach -60°C in winter and +30°C in summer. Fortunately permafrost layers are deep (over 1 m) so there is larch forest in the surrounding areas and poplar forests along the river valley even within the town. The residents are mainly engineers, geologists, and plant and mechanical workers. The first local newspaper (Golden Chukotka) began publishing in 1965. Access to television was made possible in 1970 through the Sputnik Orbita system. Radio, telephone, and Internet links are today accessible. Before 1950, postal service was poor to nonexistent; residents received mail once or twice monthly via dog- or deer-sled. Loads for the developing gold industry were transported from Magadan by the Kolyma highway. A winter road to Zelenyy Mys, a port on the Kolyma River, began in 1955 and remains a vital point of connection. All transportation travels by the Northern Sea Route and farther up along Kolyma River. Rich gold deposits and the nuclear power plant remain the primary forms of subsistence in Bilibino.

Leonid M. Baskin

See also Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant; Kolyma River

Further Reading

Bartkova, I. Berling & D. Vishnevskii, Rossiiskaya Federatsiya Dal'nii Vostok (Russian Federation Far East), Moscow: Mysl', 1971

Bykov, D., Mechta Abramovicha (Abramovich's Dream) in

Sobesednik, 15.07.2001:3 Gaman, O., Bilibinskii rayon (Bilibino district), Magadan:

Knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1986 Glazyrin, Georgii, Istoricheskie khroniki Bilibinskogo rayona za 1930-1980 (Historic Chronicles of Bilibinskii District During 1930-1980), Magadan: Magadanskoe knizhnoe izdatel'stvo, 1980 Shilo Nikolay (editor), Sever Dal'nego Vostoka (North of Far

East), Moscow: Nauka, 1970 Vasilevskii, Boris, Dlinnaya doroga v Uelen (Long Way at Uelen), Moscow: Mysl', 1980

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