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Atomic Lake

Lake Balapan was created when an underground nuclear test in Kazakhstan blew the top off of a mountain.
Sixty years ago, the Soviet Union began testing nuclear bombs on the steppe in northern Kazakhstan. In the Semipalatinsk Polygon, researchers detonated nearly 460 nuclear explosions above and below ground over a 40-year period, ending in 1989.

Today, October 19, 2009, marks the twentieth anniversary of Kazakhstan’s nuclear testing moratorium, the result of a rare Soviet grassroots environmental campaign. Kazakhstan once had the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal. It has since become the first country to become nuclear-free.

Lake Balapan, also known as Atomic Lake, was created when an underground nuclear test blew the top off of a mountain. The resulting crater filled with water and is one of the most radioactive sites within the 6,950-square-mile Polygon. Recently, local shepherds have watered their sheep at the lake, not believing scientific warnings about the dangers of doing so.

Nurlan Khamiev is the director of the Shorskoye Mine, one of two mines still operating within the contaminated Polygon.

See another Polygon photo here.

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