Soviets suspend nuclear testing at Kazakhstan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(April 6, 1990) While Chernobyl has caused a great deal of public concern in the USSR, there is another source of radiation exposure that has been a cause for alarm and, recently, outright protests.

(330.3296) WISE Amsterdam/WISE Stockholm - These protests are having an effect. According to press reports circulating on 28 March, the USSR has decided to suspend underground nuclear testing at Kazakhstan until steps are taken to ensure greater protection from radiation. Just what is meant by "greater protection", though, remains to be seen.

A previous de facto moratorium on the tests had been in effect for several months last year until, in October, the Military detonated two 70-kiloton blasts at the "Poligon" test site. These blasts shook the powerful coal miners union into action. According to Askar Nurmanov, a Soviet journalist who heads the Kazakhstan department of the Novosti Press Agency, "The miners have threatened to strike if there is another nuclear blast at Poligon."


The Dene and Inuit People are also among those suffering from the 1950s nuclear weapons tests by both the USSR and the US. A 1989 report by a Moscow weekly, quoted in the December issue of Health 2000, reveals that the "legacies of Soviet Nuclear tests carried out decades ago are ravaging the reindeer herders who live across the Bering Strait from Alaska."

Moscow News, also quoted by Health 2000, reported that the cancer rate among natives of the Chukoka Peninsula is two to three times higher than the national average and that virtually the entire population suffers from tuberculosis and 90 percent have chronic lung disease. The general radiation level on the peninsula is at least twice as high as normal - and equal to the average dose received by people living in the still-populated areas around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. "Peaceful hunters and reindeer-herders who in no way participated in the conflict of the superpowers are now paying the price for big policies," Moscow News reported.

Canadian Inuit families call the 1957-1958 winter "the year the caribou did not come." That winter was the very worst for hunger the Inuit can remember according to one of the survivors. "The year the Caribou didn't come" coincided with an extraordinarily high yield from US and Soviet nuclear tests conducted in the same period. The Canadian Arctic received heavy fallout.

Source: Health 2000, Dec. 1989
Contact: The full report entitled "Starvation in the Arctic" is available from the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, 830 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario M5R 3G1, Canada. Cost: CDN $3.00.

The nuclear tests have been going on in secret since 1949, says Nurmanov. But it was not until 14 February 1989 that people living downwind finally learned the facts of the test program. Despite official assurances at that time that the tests were "benign", local residents organized a march to the site. The protests had an effect. The government then agreed to send medical examiners to the affected villages and the planned number of tests was reduced from 19 to seven.

Nurmanov, who has been touring the US as a guest of the American Peace Test, pointed out that the "Poligon" test site at Kazakhstan, like the US Nevada Test Site, is located on sacred native lands. And like the "downwinders" in the US, citizens in the USSR have organized to monitor the health of their communities and to protest continued testing. (In honor of the US protests, they have dubbed their campaign the "Nevada Movement.") In his travels around the US, Nurmanov displays a number of photos of mass demonstrations at the site. One photo shows a protestor carrying his daughter on his shoulders. The girl appears to be five years old, but in fact, explains Nurmanov, "She is 15 years old." Years of fallout have caused cases of dwarfism as well as cancer and leukemia.

Meanwhile, in the US on Saturday 31 March, about 1,600 people participated in the annual peace demonstration at the Nevada nuclear weapons test site. Police arrested 871 people and charged them with trespass. The underground test site is about 100 km from Las Vegas.


  • AFP press report, 28 Mar. 1990 (via GreenNet, gn.nuclear, topic 226, 32 Mar. 1990)
  • Earth Island Journal (US), Winter 1990
  • Dagens Nyheter (Sweden), 2 Apr. 1990, p. All.

Contact: The Union of Writers of Kazakhstan Alma-Ata, Kommunistichesky Prospect, 105, Kazakhstan, USSR
Western Shoshone National Council, P0 Box 68, Duckwater NV 89314, USA, tel: +1-702-863-0227
American Peace Test, P0 box 26725, Las Vegas NV 89126, USA.