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The Dark Legacy Of Semipalatinsk

Twenty years ago today, Kazakhstan closed a dark chapter in its nuclear history by officially shutting down the infamous Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in the northeast Kazakh steppe. Over a 40-year period, the Soviet Union conducted more than a quarter of the world's nuclear tests at the site. Today, locals live with the lasting legacy of the horrendous tests -- birth defects, cancer, and deeply irradiated soil and water.

The first Soviet nuclear test at Semipalatinsk on August 29, 1949
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The first Soviet nuclear test at Semipalatinsk on August 29, 1949

An "atomic" lake formed from a crater remaining after a series of nuclear explosions in the Semipalatinsk region.
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An "atomic" lake formed from a crater remaining after a series of nuclear explosions in the Semipalatinsk region.

A view of an open field used as a nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk.
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A view of an open field used as a nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk.

The village of Sarzhal, located near the Semipalatinsk nuclear field
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The village of Sarzhal, located near the Semipalatinsk nuclear field

The soil near a crater formed by a nuclear explosion still has dangerous exposure readings.
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The soil near a crater formed by a nuclear explosion still has dangerous exposure readings.

Ualikhan Serikkaliev is one of many local children born with birth defects attributed to the nuclear tests. (October 2009 photo)
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Ualikhan Serikkaliev is one of many local children born with birth defects attributed to the nuclear tests. (October 2009 photo)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) visits the museum at the Semipalatinsk test site on April 6, 2010.
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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) visits the museum at the Semipalatinsk test site on April 6, 2010.

An entrance to a bunker at the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site
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An entrance to a bunker at the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site

Soviet and foreign journalists visit Semipalatinsk in October 1991.
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Soviet and foreign journalists visit Semipalatinsk in October 1991.

Soviet and foreign journalists visit Semipalatinsk in October 1991.
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Soviet and foreign journalists visit Semipalatinsk in October 1991.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev stands before a monument to the nuclear tests in Semipalatinsk in June 2009.
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Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev stands before a monument to the nuclear tests in Semipalatinsk in June 2009.

A giant cloud of black smoke arises as Kazakhstan's last nuclear weapons test site is put out of action with a bang in July 2000. The former Soviet republic blew up the sole remaining test tunnel at Semipalatinsk with 90 tons of explosives.
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A giant cloud of black smoke arises as Kazakhstan's last nuclear weapons test site is put out of action with a bang in July 2000. The former Soviet republic blew up the sole remaining test tunnel at Semipalatinsk with 90 tons of explosives.

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