Updated: 13-Feb-2002 Week of 14-20 January 2002

14 Jan. 2001

Radioactive contamination in Kazakhstan

A NATO "Science for Peace" study of the radioactive contamination at the former Soviet nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, was presented to a Technical Meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held in Vienna on 14-18 January.

The NATO project aims to establish the levels of radioactive contamination in a largely unmonitored area of steppe lying to the north-west of the village of Sarzhal, Kazakhstan, which has a population of about 2,000. This 600 square kilometre area was selected following a joint mission to the test site by IAEA and NATO teams. The area was in the plume of a 1953 ground-level hydrogen bomb explosion and lies close to the Degelen mountains, where 239 underground nuclear tests were carried out.

After closure of the test site in 1991, information on the radioactive contamination was classified and controlled by military departments until 1993, when the first international experts were allowed access to the site. The Government of Kazakhstan encourages coordinated collaboration between Kazakh and international scientists and has approached international agencies for additional financial and technical support, while the United Nations has called for the international community to join the effort to find a viable solution for the ecological problems of the Semipalatinsk test site.

There are indications that the area selected for the NATO study was used for grazing by domestic animals before the creation of the test site and it is hoped that one of the outcomes of the study will be the reclamation of the contaminated steppe lands for safe grazing once more.

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