5 How Nuclear Weapons Tests Were Conducted in USSR: Trip To Semipalatinsk Test Site

How Nuclear Weapons Tests Were Conducted in USSR: Trip To Semipalatinsk Test Site

Posted on September 11, 2018 by tim


Aslan, a Russian blogger, has taken a trip to Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site where the Soviet Union was testing its nuclear weapons from 1949 to 1991. The photo above shows the so named “Nuclear Lake” which appeared as a result of an underground nuclear test explosion.

The nuclear tests at this site stopped when Kazakhstan ceded from the USSR in 1991 and their president Nazarbaev (still president of Kazakhstan to this day) abolished nuclear tests.

The size of the test site is 18500 square kms which can be compared to the size of Israel or Slovenia. The peak of the tests here happened during the Caribbean crisis in the early 1960s.

In fourty-two years, 456 nuclear explosions were conducted here. The last one happened on October 19th 1989.

From 1996 to 201,2 Russia, Kazakhstan and the USA were conducting secret searches of the site for unused nuclear fuel – about 200 kg of nuclear Plutonium was recovered, also various abandoned equipment that was used to test the explosions was recovered. The existence of this plutonium, and the recovery operation itself, was hidden from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

At the moment, most of the nuclear material was cleared from the site and a human can stay on most parts of the site if he is protected from the radioactive dust by wearing a mask to prevent breathing dust in.

During the test period, over 100,000 people of Kazakhstan received injuries and developed health problems from the spreading of the radiation. Despite this, people still live there and use the lands of the test site mainly as feeding pastures for their live stock.

Funnily enough, up until the year 2006 the territory of the test site was not marked in any way, and it wasn’t guarded. Only in 2008 did they start to building fences around the most radioactively polluted places of the site so that people and cows couldn’t go there any more. In 2009 they put army guards in some places, too.

In the North of the site, there is a town named Kurchatov, after Kurchatov, the scientist “father” of the Russian nuclear bomb. There is a nuclear museum in the town because it was considered to be the Nuclear Center of the USSR.  Aslan visited the museum, too.

The model above shows how the above-the-ground nuclear tests happened. There was a tower, usually 30 m tall, and on that tower they placed a nuclear bomb. And around it they placed different objects – military equipment, tanks, planes, houses, and live animals (cows, pigs, horses, sheep and even dogs).

This way they studied how radiation and nuclear explosions affected the surrounding environment.

The museum still has on display the internal organs of the dogs affected by radiation.

And this was a control panel for the nuclear test blasts on the site.

This model shows how they prepared an underground nuclear explosion: for this they made a mine and put a bomb at the end of the mine. Then they sealed the bomb behind a few concrete walls so that the explosion doesn’t go into the mine. Then they detonated the bomb.

This is a melted granite rock recovered from the epicenter of the first nuclear underground explosion. It melted and turned into a sort of volcanic stone – just imagine what kind of temperature there was. This stone still shows nuclear radiation higher than normal.

This was the camera used to photograph the different stages of the nuclear explosions.  It has two lenses.

And on this “bread loaf” UAZ Aslan goes to the test site itself. First to the place where in 1949 the first explosion took place. The first Soviet nuclear bomb was blasted here. This test site platform is around 50 km away from Kurchatov town and museum – just imagine the size of the test site, but it took them over two hours to get there in this van.

Those towers were called “geese”. Their purpose is to visually observe the explosions. It was just 5km away from epicenter. All metal parts from it were removed and stolen by looters in the 1990s and were turned into scrap metal.

The radiation here is normal but Aslan still wears a protection suit.

This is another type of “goose” watch tower.

Those silent brothers saw not one, but a dozen or more nuclear explosions.

And around you can see flowers.

In this concrete “box” there was a missile warhead to test how the nuclear explosion would affect it.

This is an historical place. Here on November 28th 1949 the first Soviet nuclear explosion happened. Later here at same place, three more explosions were made. After the last one, the thermo-nuclear 400 kilotons explosion a crater appeared which later turned into a lake.

This is what the thermo-nuclear explosion looked like, more or less.

Now the lake even has ducks in it.

And this is another “lake”. There was a program of the Soviet state to build a total of 40 artificial lakes with a total volume of water of 120-140 million cubic meters to serve as a water reservoir for the locals  – to water the crops and to be drinking water for cows.

For this they used “clean” nuclear charges. The thermo-nuclear charges were considered 94% clean – as there was very little nuclear pollution after their explosions – because the heat and explosion were the result of a thermonuclear synthesis which doesn’t produce radiation. The thermo-nuclear charge of over 170 kilotons (Hiroshima bomb was only 16 kilotons) could be placed in a container 86cm in diameter and 3 meter long.

On January 15th 1965 they placed this charge in a mine 178 meters deep in the ground near the Chagan river, and then at 05:59:59 AM GMT it was detonated. 2.5 seconds after the detonation, a cloud of fiery gases started to form. Within five minutes it reached 4800 meters in altitude.

The explosion lifted over 10,3 million tons of land to the height of 960 meters, making a crater of 430 meters in diameter and over 100 meters deep. Pieces of the granite over a few thousand tons ended up blocking nearby rivers.

And now this is a lake and a channel system. The channel was built later with bulldozers covered with lead sheets over 5mm thick, still many people got radiation sickness and died.

Now this is a lake 100m deep. It has over 100,000 m3 of water in it.

There is fish in the lake and locals come for fishing – this was the car on the lake shore. Scientists say, however, that the fish are too high in Cesium-137

And this is another family on the “lake” shore.

The shore of the nuclear lake – the stones and ground that was lifted into the air as the result of explosion.

They wanted to build a dam to move the water to the farmers but later discarded the idea.

On the test site there were such bunkers – now only the walls of them are left. All metal parts were stolen for scrap metal in the 1990s by locals.

This huge metal ring was used as a sliding door and because it was too big it was never removed by the looters.

The tunnels inside the bunkers were blasted and caved in by the army before they left.

Aslan says that things he saw there makes him think about the astonishing devastative power of modern nuclear armaments. His website is below:

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5 Responses to “How Nuclear Weapons Tests Were Conducted in USSR: Trip To Semipalatinsk Test Site”

  1. Indy says:

    And now, Putin and neocons in US want “limited” preemptive strikes in case of war. They did not understand a single thing…

    • FunnyMericant's says:

      The Russian Gov has repeatedly said since 1992 (and also this year) that it won’t make any nuclear first strike. Period.

      Those nuclear “limited preemptive strikes” were annonced by the Pentagon as the offical US policy since February 2018. Go ahead, look for it. That info is very easy to find.

  2. Douglas says:

    We have the same type of places in the US. The nuclear tests make the earth a type of Hell. I live downwind from a nuclear testing area…..all of my neighbors have had cancer or have died of cancer. I am surrounded by death.

  3. aldebaran says:

    “Looters”.. aka Scavengers have pulled metal even from Trajan’s Column in Rome, and other Roman structures.
    So, nothing new here.

  4. MikeGrost says:

    Absolutely & astoundingly amazing material !

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