Soviet-era nuclear testing at Kazakhstan’s Semey site will continue to both affect the local population for centuries and require international aid. Kazakhstani and foreign scientists presented this assessment on April 10 at a press conference in Almaty, after a seminar held last week in northeastern Kazakhstan. The conference was organized principally by the Almaty-based Union for the Casualties of Nuclear Testing and Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Fund. (Delovaya nedelya [Almaty], April 9; Panorama [Almaty], Reuters, April 10)
Between 1949 and 1989, 445 nuclear tests — 118 of them above ground — were conducted at Semey’s nuclear testing ground. As many as 500,000 local inhabitants were exposed to radiation. During the Gorbachev era, Olzhas Suleimenov — a Kazakh writer and political figure — formed the Nevada-Semey anti-nuclear movement (named after the principal U.S. and USSR testing sites). Protests organized by the movement led to the site’s closure by Nazarbaev in 1991. Since Suleimenov’s appointment as ambassador to Italy two years ago, the movement has effectively collapsed. Even today, many local inhabitants remain ignorant of the dangers. The scientists were keen to rekindle international interest.
Kazakhstan’s government does not have sufficient funds to finance Semey’s environmental recovery, and few international aid agencies have prioritized the Semey region. Some organizations say they are deterred by difficulties of procuring accurate health statistics and the country’s plethora of other socio-economic problems. (The Guardian [London], March 19) The most likely source of future aid may be foreign companies investing in the Republic and keen to promote their standing with the government and population. — SC
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