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Old 21 Nov 2008
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Radiation hazards around Semey, Kazakhstan

I am planning a route through Kazakhstan with the view to cross into Russia around the Semey area. Can anyone give some (sensible please!) advice on the radiation and health hazards regarding this area or point to sources of information where I can obtain advice for travel in this region.

I have seen pictures of the Kurchatov area and results of the bomb tests carried out at Semipalatinsk and wondered if it is possible or (relatively) safe to visit this site for myself. Thanks in advance

link to pics of the test site:


Last edited by Fastship; 21 Nov 2008 at 11:44.
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Old 21 Nov 2008
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I rode through in the reverse direction in June. You'd have to be a pretty brave man to venture into the Polygon.

To the best of my knowledge there are no fences, nor markings to indicate the hot spots. As a result it's pretty much up to you to carry your own geiger counter and monitor it constantly.

I stuck to the main road west to Pavlodar, then south to Karaganda. Roads are pretty poor, espec. between Pavlodar and Karaganda.

Enjoy, Garry from Oz.
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Old 21 Nov 2008
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Thanks Garry - it's so interesting to get a picture from someone who as actually been there. It's also interesting to see that you are from Oz 'cos I have also been planning to travel the Anne Beadell Highway which as you probably know runs past through Maralinga & Woomera where the British tested several nuclear devices in the 1950's.

After several "clean ups" the latest government commission report states:
"approximately 120 square kilometres is considered safe for access but not permanent occupancy"

Re. the Kurchatov area (which is still inhabited) perhaps there are guided tours of the site which someone knows about?

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Old 21 Nov 2008
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No probs. I spent 2 days in Semey getting my radiator rewelded after the mounts broke as a result of vibration from corrugations. No one was real keen to tell me much about the Polygon at all. On the island in the middle of the river that runs through town there is a HUGE memorial to the people affected by the radiation - it seems to be something of an embarrassment and the Kazakhs feel some pretty strong enmity to the Russians as a result.

I had a wheel bearing failure on the road to Pavlodar and had my bike vandalised overnight in Pavlodar. After riding down to Karaganda I realised the roads were getting worse so that put the kabosh on my plans to ride down to Almaty.

In Karaganda I visited the ecology museum where they gave me a pretty good run down on how badly managed the whole Polygon site had been and told me a few horror stories of the risks involved in visiting. Apparently they can organise tours but I believe you do require a fair bit of notice.

Karaganda (like most ex-Soviet towns) is a bastard of a city to find your way around. It took me two hours to find the city centre 9and a hotel) after arriving from Pavlodar.

I've also visited Woomera around 10 years back enroute up the centre to Darwin. Emu Field, which is the test zone near the Beadell Highway, is a long way from town though.

Garry from Oz.
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