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Perhaps one of the most disturbing realizations of our modern era is that, despite the trappings of democracy and equality present in our society, those in power do not always have humanity in mind. Money, greed, and pressure can all lead to some devastating outcomes, like knowingly following through with immoral operations and forcing authorities to cover up their effects.

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Recently, Kazbek Apsalikov, the director of Russia’s Institute of Biophysics in Moscow, revealed a top secret report regarding the aftermath of a Soviet nuclear weapons test that occurred in 1950s Kazakhstan.

The report, marked as “top secret,” exposes the corruption of the government scientists involved, who allowed a nuclear disaster four times worse than Chernobyl to affect its people.

“One reason – not at least for secrecy purposes – for the initial choice of Semipalatinsk as nuclear test site was the vastness and relative remoteness of the Kazakh steppes,” explained Apsalikov and his colleagues. “But atomic bombs do not restrict their impact to the location of their detonation, and a large population could potentially be affected.”

The Kazakh industrial city of Ust-Kamenogorsk had more than 600 people in the hospital with radiation sickness as a result of one test in 1956 at Semipalatinsk, for example. To put that into perspective, that’s more than four times the radiation sickness cases (143) caused by the Chernobyl disaster.

Apsalikov and his colleagues said:

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During Soviet times, nuclear tests and their consequences for human health were surrounded by total secrecy. In fact, until 1956 the government did not even conduct studies about the nuclear testing’s effect on the population living close to the test site. There are no clear statistics available about the acute effects of the testing. . . .

The immediate impetus for health studies came later, in connection with an emergency situation caused by a surface nuclear detonation on 16 March 1956, the radioactive cloud of which reached the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk, 400 km from the explosion epicentre. The city’s population was exposed to nuclear fallout with radiation doses so high as to cause acute radiation poisoning. In response, the Soviet leadership established a special medical institution and hospitalized 638 persons suffering from radiation poisoning. No information about the fate of these people is available, however.

The newly uncovered report exposes that just a month after the alarming 1956 test, radiation levels remained up to 100 times what the report calls a “permissible rate.” Furthermore, scientists had gone to eastern Kazakhstan to tell locals they must stop eating local grain due to radioactive contamination. However, this didn’t seem happen.

The report also downplayed the severity of the situation, claiming that the various changes in people’s nervous system and blood recorded by doctors “could not be considered as the changes which arose only due to impact of ionizing radiation,” and instead shifted the blame on poor sanitation and dietiary choices, as well as diseases like brucellosis and tuberculosis.

Though atmospheric bomb tests at Semipalatinsk stopped in 1963, and much of the area is now considered safe to live in, “some areas will never return to nature,” noted Apsalikov. “The situation in others is uncertain and potentially dangerous.”

Such a revelation likely only puts more doubt in the public’s mind regarding those in power, but hopefully the release of this report will shed some light on what locals truly endured.


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