From the New York Times:
On this spot on a summer morning in 1949, Soviet scientists detonated Stalin’s first atomic bomb. Over the next 40 years, in the air above the steppe and the soil of the surrounding area, scientists detonated at least 455 more.
Kazakhstan’s nuclear arsenal is now gone, returned to Russia in the 1990’s. But one of this sprawling country’s dismal inheritances after decades of Moscow’s rule is this vast poisoned zone. It is a measure of the disarray bedeviling many corners of the former Soviet Union that access to it is fully unrestricted.
If you can find your way here, you can enter at will.
The test range is a peculiar post-Soviet legacy. In an area roughly the size of Israel, the Joe One site is just one of several places where the hundreds of bombs were detonated. Across this vast stretch, no one who wanders the range can be sure of the risks. No one who lives nearby can be sure the meat in markets did not come from animals that grazed on radioactive grass. No one knows where all of the irradiated metal has gone.
What is known is this: The site has been stripped almost bare. Scavenging gangs have yanked the thick copper cables from the ground and dismantled and carted away the parked aircraft and fighting vehicles.
If only I had had more time on my trip to Kazakhstan a year ago! Someday I have to go back and take a Semipalatinsk and Aral Sea tour.