Page 3: Effects of Nuclear Weapon Testing by the Soviet Union

Crater at the Semipalatinsk Test Site

Economic, social, and environmental impacts

In December 1997, a joint Mission of the United Nations and the Government of Kazakhstan travelled to Semipalatinsk to investigate the economic, environmental and social consequences of the Soviet nuclear testing at the STS. The mission found that the psycho-social effects of the testing had been profound.

The population felt victimized and deceived by the government. The local economy had been affected by the negative image of the region, which discouraged major domestic and international investors. Agricultural land had been contaminated during the years of testing and underground water cycles had been disturbed. The mission concluded that: “It is important to keep in mind that a number of past, current and future impacts of nuclear testing remain uncertain, for example, the health impacts of the so-called “low-doses” of radiation and the risks of contamination of the environment by extremely harmful plutonium. Only fundamental, expensive, long-term research may reduce or eliminate these uncertainties.”

Lake Chagan was created by a 140-kt underground explosion, equivalent to 140,000 tons of TNT, on January 1965.
Lake Chagan in Kazakhstan, which was caused by a 140-kt underground nuclear explosion on 15 January 1965.

In a statement to the United Nations in October 1998, H.E. Ms. Akmaral Kh. Arystanbekova, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations spoke of the “…severe socio-economic, humanitarian and ecological consequences, and also the serious harm by the negative impact to the environment of the many years of nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing ground… The underground tests destroyed ecological linkages, and this in turn accelerated the process of desertification of the territory of the region, which is continuing to take place up until the present time. Large areas of land and water resources were subjected to radiation contamination, and economic activity in the territory located around the testing ground was considerably reduced.”

Lake created by nuclear test

Lake Chagan was created by a 140-kt underground nuclear explosion, equivalent to 140,000 tons of TNT, on 15 January 1965. The crater formed by the Chagan explosion had a diameter of 408 m and a depth of 100 m. Approximately20 percent of the radioactive fission particles released by the explosion escaped into the atmosphere, wrote Milo D. Nordyke in The Soviet Program for Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Explosions. Radioactivity from the test was detected as far away as  Japan.

Totsk test site in the Urals

A nuclear weapons test conducted at the Totsk test site in the Arinbuk region of the southern Urals on 14 September 1954 continued to cause serious health and environmental effects decades later. The former Russian Deputy Minister for Emergency Situations Vladimir Vladimirov claimed that people living in the blast region remained exposed to ionizing radiation 42 years later, with soil levels of plutonium-239 up to five times normal levels. High levels of caesium-137 contamination were also recorded.  The region's population suffers shorter life expectancy and a death rate 1.8 times higher than in other similar areas, a high infant mortality and a high rate of physical retardation in children.