This Is What Nuclear Weapons Leave in Their Wake

A remote area of Kazakhstan was once home to nearly a quarter of the world’s nuclear testing. The impact on its inhabitants has been devastating.

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Concrete structures are pictured approximately 650 feet away from the site of the first Soviet nuclear test at the Semipalatinsk Test Site, south of Kurchatov, in Kazakhstan.

Decay and desolation scar the landscape of a remote corner of the Kazakh Steppe. Unnatural lakes formed by nuclear bomb explosions pockmark the once flat terrain, broken up only by empty shells of buildings. It appears uninhabitable. And yet, ghosts – living and dead – haunt the land, still burdened by the effects a nuclear testing program that stopped nearly 30 years ago.

The site, known as the Polygon, was home to nearly a quarter of the world’s nuclear tests during the Cold War. The zone was chosen for being unoccupied, but several small agricultural villages dot its perimeter. Though some residents were bussed out during the test period, most remained. The damage that continues today is visceral.

Photographer Phil Hatcher-Moore spent two months documenting the region, and was struck by the “wanton waste of man’s folly.”

His project ‘Nuclear Ghosts’ marries the wasted landscape and intimate portraits of villagers still suffering the consequences.

The figures are astonishing – some 100,000 people in the area are still affected by radiation, which can be transmitted down through five generations. But with his intimately harrowing pictures, Moore sought to make the abstract numbers tangible.

“Nuclear contamination is not something we can necessarily see,” he says. “And we can talk about the numbers, but I find it more interesting to focus on individuals who encapsulate the story.”

Moore interviewed all his subjects before picking up his camera and learned that secrecy...

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