Russia covered up a nuclear fallout worse than Chernobyl, confidential report reveals

The director of Russia’s Institute of Biophysics has uncovered a top secret report on the aftermath of a Soviet nuclear weapons test in Kazakhstan during the 1950s, and has handed it over to US journalists.

While the test itself was no secret, the report reveals that Soviet scientists discovered widespread radioactive contamination and radiation sickness surrounding the Semipalatinsk test site, and kept it secret from both the locals and the outside world for decades.


“For many years, this has been a secret,” Kazbek Apsalikov, director of the Institute of Biophysics in Moscow, told Fred Pearce New Scientist. 

Apsalikov says he recently uncovered the top secret report in the archive of the Russian Institute of Radiation Medicine and Ecology (IRME) in Semey, Kazakhstan, and passed it on to New Scientist last week

According to Pearce, the report is marked as “top secret”, and outlines “the results of a radiological study of Semipalatinsk region”, where in 1956, a nuclear disaster four times worse than Chernobyl in terms of the number of cases of acute radiation sickness had occurred.

As one of the few reports that happened to evade Soviet censors during the 1950s, the report shows for the first time just how much government scientists knew about the risks of the aftermath, and the extent to which they kept their research from being disseminated to the public.

The report has yet to be made public, but you can see the title page below:

Institute of Radiation Medicine and Ecology (IRME)

For a bit of background on the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site (SNTS) – also known as the Polygon – it’s now notorious as the world’s worst radiation hotspot, where Soviet officials carried out 456 nuclear detonations between 1949 and 1991.

According to a more recent 2014 report by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, and co-authored by Apsalikov, 1 million people have been recognised by the government of Kazakhstan as having suffered, “in a broad sense”, from the…

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