Kazakhstan nuclear test site clean up success
A Soviet-era nuclear test site in Kazakhstan was cleaned up through a collaborative international project that could provide lessons for tackling other dangerous nuclear sites across the globe, a report reveals.
The report, entitled 'Plutonium Mountain', documents how international scientific cooperation was important for securing nuclear waste from the site. It was released in August by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, United States.
The Semipalatinsk test site, which spans an area about the size of Belgium, lies in a remote part of eastern Kazakhstan. It embodied the post-Cold War risk of 'loose nukes' — the threat that terrorists or rogue states could obtain nuclear fissile materials — according to the report.
Degelen Mountain, located within the site, contained the Soviet Union’s largest underground nuclear testing area. It was here that 340 of the site's 456 nuclear explosions took place between 1949 and 1991. Some of these tests left plutonium in tunnels that thieves could potentially extract.
Radioactive contamination of the ground at the former test site was also a serious threat to human health and the environment at the time of the cleanup, according to the report.
For these reasons, the United States saw the site as a particular threat and made it the focus of a 17-year, US$150 million cooperative project with Kazakhstan and Russia.