60 years ago, on the steppes of northeast Kazakhstan, “First Lightning,” the very first nuclear weapon to detonate in Russia, went off at the Semipalatinsk Polygon test site. Over its 40-year existence, Semipalatinsk Polygon would go on to host 456 additional explosions. These photos, just two of many, depict that legacy’s haunting aftermath on the people of Kazakhstan.
Residents in the surrounding area became unwitting guinea pigs, exposed to the aftereffects of the bombs both intentionally and unintentionally. The radiation has silently devastated three generations of people in Kazakhstan—the total number affected is thought to be more than one million—creating health problems ranging from thyroid diseases, cancer, birth defects, deformities, premature aging, and cardiovascular diseases. Life expectancy in the area is seven years less than the national average of Kazakhstan.
For more photos: Kazakhstan’s Radioactive Legacy