Although the name sounds like the Russian word for "brother" ("брат", brat), it actually comes from 'bratskiye lyudi', an old name for the Buryats.
The first Europeans in the area arrived in 1623, intending to collect taxes from the local Buryat population. Permanent settlement began with the construction of an ostrog (fortress) in 1631 at the junction of the Oka and Angara rivers. Several wooden towers from the 17th-century fort are now exhibited in Kolomenskoye Estate of Moscow.
During World War II, there was an increase in industrial activity in Siberia, as Soviet industry was moved to the lands east of the Ural Mountains. After the war's end, development slowed as resources were required in the rebuilding of European Russia.
In 1947, the Gulag Angara prison labor camp was constructed near Bratsk, with capacity for up to 44,000 prisoners for projects such as the construction of the railway from Tayshet to Ust-Kut via Bratsk (now the western section of the Baikal-Amur Mainline).
The city's rapid development commenced with the announcement in 1952 that a dam and hydroelectric plant would be built at Bratsk on the Angara River. Town status was granted to Bratsk in 1955. The 4,500-megawatt Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station was built between 1954 and 1966, bringing numerous workers to the town.
Other industries in the city include an aluminum smelter and a pulp mill.
On November 2013 the city council amended the charter to institute direct mayoral elections which were abolished in 2011.
Within the framework of administrative divisions, Bratsk serves as the administrative center of Bratsky District, even though it is not a part of it. As an administrative division, it is incorporated separately as the City of Bratsk—an administrative unit with the status equal to that of the districts. As a municipal division, the City of Bratsk is incorporated as Bratsk Urban Okrug.
For administrative purposes, the city is divided into three districts (populations are as of the 2010 Census):Padunsky (Падунский), 56,205 inhabitants;
Pravoberezhny (Правобережный), 38,550 inhabitants;
Tsentralny (Центральный), 151,564 inhabitants.
Residential districts of the city, some of which are separated by open country, include: Bikey, Chekanovsky, Energetik, Gidrostroitel, Osinovka, Padun, Porozhsky, Sosnovy, Stenikha, Sukhoy, Tsentralny, and Yuzhny Padun.
Bratsk has a subarctic climate (Köppen climate classification Dfc). Winters are very cold and long with average temperatures from −24.9 °C (−12.8 °F) to −17.1 °C (1.2 °F) in January, while summers are mild to warm with average temperatures from +12.5 °C (54.5 °F) to +23.6 °C (74.5 °F) in July. Precipitation is moderate and is significantly higher in summer than at other times of the year.
Bratsk is served by the Baikal-Amur Mainline railway and by the Bratsk Airport. There is a hydrofoil up the Angara to Irkutsk. Public transport includes buses and trolleybuses (only in the central district)
The city's economy is largely reliant on heavy industry, including one of Russia's largest aluminum plants, lumber mills, chemical works, and a coal-fired power station.
Higher educational facilities include the Bratsk State University and a branch of the Irkutsk State University.
Bratsk was among the Blacksmith Institute's "Dirty Thirty", the thirty most polluted places in the world.
Until recently, the Bratsk Reservoir—one of the world's largest—was a source of drinking water for many nearby cities. In 1998, after tons of mercury were found at the bottom of the reservoir, warnings were posted urging local citizens to avoid the reservoir at all costs. However, owing to Russia's economic troubles, the reservoir still remains a source of fish and other food products for many hard-pressed local residents. According to Yuri Udodov, head of the Federal Committee on Ecology (FCE) in Irkutsk Oblast, this region has "the highest rate of discharge of metallic mercury into the environment [in] all of Siberia." The extent of mercury pollution in the ground around the nearby Usolye chemical plant is equal to half the total global production of mercury in 1992.
Bratsk has been declared an ecological disaster zone. The Bratsk Aluminum Plant has been polluting its surroundings to such great degree that Chikanovsky was evacuated in 2001 due to repeated health emergencies.
Bratsk is twinned with: Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan
Zibo, Shandong China
Yevgeni Balyaikin (born 1988), football player
Roman Bugayev (born 1989), football player
Fedor Chudinov (born 1987), professional boxer
Alexander Kasjanov (born 1983), bobsledder
Vladimir Krasnov (born 1990), sprint athlete
Jessica Long, Paralympic gold medal winner
Marina Pankova (1963–2015), volleyball player, Olympic and world champion
Semen Pavlichenko (born 1991), luger
Valentina Popova (born 1972), weightlifter, world and European champion
Alexandra Rodionova (born 1984), bobsledder and luger
Alexandr Zubkov (born 1972), bobsledder, Olympic and world champion