Scarred Landscapes of Kazakhstan’s Nuclear Test Site

Kazakhstan 2013

September 04, 2013

Also published by the Stanley Foundation

Few know nuclear dangers quite like the Kazakhstanis. While famed for its apple orchards, Kazakhstan has struggled to shake off its image as the Soviet Union’s nuclear bomb testing site. In the northeastern area of Semipalatinsk, the Soviet Union detonated more than 450 nuclear devices until its collapse in 1991. In August, a group of 10 media professionals—supported by the Stanley Foundation—took an up-close and personal look at the country’s trajectory from nuclear bomb test site to one of the lead countries in the fight to secure vulnerable nuclear materials.

Representatives from the Stanley Foundation, one of IRP's funders, joined IRP on the reporting trip to Kazakhstan and produced this post.

Eighty-seven-year-old Maria Stasuk talks to journalists about living near the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site at the Home for the Elderly and Disabled in Semey town. Around 84 residents at the home are government-certified victims of the nuclear tests.

Anastacia Kyseleva, 86, and Maria Stasuk, 87, speak about Soviet Union-era nuclear bomb tests and the lasting impact they had on everyone’s life in the area.

Journalists on the International Reporting Project trip to Kazakhstan pile out of a bus near Ground Zero at the Semipalatinsk test area where the first Soviet nuclear weapon was detonated.

There are no fences around the perimeter of Semipalatinsk, also known as The Polygon.

Yuriy Strilchuk, head of training and information at the National Nuclear Center, talks about the history of the nuclear tests.

The area of the test site encompassed 18,500 square kilometers with an overall perimeter of around 600 km.

At the time of the first test, the area spreading out from the epicenter was peppered with animals, houses, military aircraft, plants, weapons and other materials specifically placed at select distances from the explosion in order to determine the impact of the nuclear bomb.

In total, 467 nuclear tests were conducted at the Semipalatinsk test site between 1949 and 1990.

The first nuclear device was detonated on August 29, 1949.

An up-close look at one of the scarred complexes that dotted the area.

Journalists take in the vast flatlands.

The last nuclear explosion conducted at the site was on October 19, 1989.

Another look at one of the buildings near where the first bomb was used.

Clouds sort of look like a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion.

This is the actual place where the first bomb was detonated. More than six decades later, the crater does not seem as large as you would think.

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