During the Cold War, nearly a quarter of all the world’s nuclear testing took place in Kazakhstan, in secret until the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


This article by Joanna Lillis in History Today makes the following points:
  • The US dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki started an arms race.
  • The USSR began secret nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan in 1949 at a place called the Polygon, just south of Siberia.
  • The site was top secret, supposedly an anti-brucellosis research facility.
  • 456 atomic explosions followed over the next 40 years.
  • Spies within the US arms programme helped.
  • Local villages were advised ‘there’s going to be an earthquake,’ before some tests.
  • The tests moved underground after a ban on atmospheric testing in 1963.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people at a minimum were exposed to radiation.
  • Russia takes no responsibility for the legacy of nuclear testing.
  • The nuclear testing at Semipalatinsk destroyed the lives of unborn people even after tests ceased in 1989.
  • The USSR tried to cover up the Chernobyl atomic power station meltdown but were forced to admit it.
  • Due to glasnost (openness) launched by Mikhail Gorbachev a nuclear debate was ignited.
  • Somewhere between 4,000 to 200,000 people died or fell ill from radiation.
  • In Kazakhstan an anti-nuclear movement was supported by  Nursultan Nazarbayev, who later became its leader.
  • He agreed to give up Kazakhstan’s 1,410 nuclear warheads, as well as tactical weapons.
  • Kazakhstan now supports nuclear non-proliferation.


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Source Information: History Today