Everyday Radioactive Goods? Economic Development at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan

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I first heard of “radioactive coal” in the summer of 2012, when I was living in the small village of Koyan, one of many settlements in Eastern Kazakhstan that hosted the Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. A scandal over the sale of radioactive coal had erupted in the fall of 2011 when local media began reporting on a train from Kazakhstan carrying more than eight thousand tons of it (in 130 wagons) to a heating plant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Upon discovering that radioactivity in the shipment was eight times higher than normal, Kyrgyz authorities had it removed from the Bishkek's central heating plant. Rather than discarding it, they put it to use elsewhere, including in the heating stoves of more than one orphanage, a kindergarten, and several rural schools. When media covered this development, public outcry forced Kyrgyz politicians to demand that the coal be returned to Kazakhstan; allegations of corruption and arrests of Kyrgyz officials ensued. Political wrangling over responsibility and refunds meant that negotiations between Kazakh and Kyrgyz authorities took more than a year to complete. Finally, Kazakhstan allowed the coal to be returned.

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... Closing the nuclear test site also meant to be left with the nuclear infrastructures at Kurchatov on the "polygon," 29 which was later reorganized as Kazakhstan's "National Nuclear Center" that also held the mandate over radiation protection in efforts to develop the area through mining and other economic activities. 30 With the dissolution of the USSR, a new mode of transnational biomedical risk assessment entered the Semipalatinsk region, building on, inventorizing Soviet data and reevaluating fallout effects. In the early 1990s, institutional funding broke down, with employees having to move into parallel informal sectors as their employers were no longer able to pay salaries. ...
... Были ограничены капитальные вложения в социальную сферу этих районов. На ухудшение уровня качества жизни населения радиационно-загрязненных территорий сказалось и тяжелое социально-экономическое положение, сложившееся после распада СССР [11,40,41]. ...
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The assessment of environmental factors influence on the population quality of life is one of the generally accepted methods of health status evaluation. The leading position in the structure of stress factors associated with nuclear weapons testing is attributed to inadequate informing of the population considering the consequences of radiation exposure, which leads to the development of anxiety and affects the assessment of the quality of life. This paper presents the outcomes of the quality of life evaluation in the population exposed to radiation on the territories of Abai (n=233), Borodulikha (n=222), and Kurchum districts (n=245) of East Kazakhstan region. The tool for assessing the quality of life was SF-36 (Medical outcomes survey short form-36) questionnaire. The analysis of the results revealed the statistically significant decrease in the quality of life of the population of Abay district where the average radiation doses of the respondents (or doses of their parents) were maximal in comparison with control group presented by the population of Kurchum district. In order to minimize the stressful impact of the radiation factor it is necessary to introduce the effective methods of psychological protection for the local population.
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This handbook is the first collection of comprehensive teaching materials for teachers and students of Central Asian Studies (CAS) with a strong pedagogic dimension. It presents 22 chapters, clustered around five themes, with contributions from more than 19 scholars, all leading experts in the field of CAS and Eurasian Studies. This collection is not only a reference work for scholars branching out to different disciplines of CAS but also for scholars from other disciplines broadening their scope to CAS. It addresses post-colonial frameworks and also untangles topics from their ‘Soviet’ reference frame. It aims to de-exoticize the region and draws parallels to European or to historically European-occupied territories. In each chapter, the handbook provides a concise but nuanced overview of the topics covered, in which way these have been approached by the mainstream literature, and points out pitfalls, myths, and new insights, providing background knowledge about Central Asia to readers and intertwine this with an advanced level of insight to leave the readers equipped with a strong foundation to approach more specialized sources either in classroom settings or by self-study. In addition, the book offers a comprehensive glossary, list of used abbreviations, overview of intended learning outcomes, and a smart index (distinguishing between names, locations, concepts, and events). A list of recorded lectures to be found on YouTube will accompany the handbook either as instruction materials for teachers or visual aids for students. Since the authors themselves recorded the lectures related to their own chapters, this provides the opportunity to engage in a more personalized way with the authors. This project is being developed in the framework of the EISCAS project (, co-funded by the Erasmus + Program of the European Union.
In Kazakhstan today, overt dissent is not typically tolerated. However, recent large-scale citizen protests over land use and the environment have resulted in significant concessions by the government. This paper examines the discourses and slogans of protests spaces, which invoke the (inter)national legal frameworks of the United Nations, the legacy of land and bio-species conservation in the former Soviet Union, and a nationalized moral paradigm of respect for ancestral lands, cultural heritage, and sovereignty. Protesters not only call upon government leaders to respect these existing structures of authority, but also position themselves pragmatically as agents of social and political change.
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This month the media and social networks are busy remembering Fukushima on the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, but what we are really observing is the beginning of the work of forgetting Fukushima. Fukushima is taking its place alongside the many forgotten nuclear disasters of the last 70 years. Like Mayak and Santa Susana, soon all that will be left of the Fukushima nuclear disaster are the radionuclides that will cycle through the ecosystem for millennia. In that sense we are internalizing Fukushima into our body unconsciousness. Forgetting begins with lies. In Fukushima the lies began with TEPCO (the owner of the power plants) denying that there were any meltdowns when they knew there were three. They knew they had at least one full meltdown by the end of the first day, less than 12 hours after the site was struck by a powerful earthquake knocking out the electrical power. TEPCO continued to tell this lie for three months, even after hundreds of thousands of people had been forced to or voluntarily evacuated. Just last week TEPCO admitted that it was aware of the meltdowns much earlier, or to put it bluntly, it continued to hide the fact that it had been lying for five years (I've written about the dynamic behind this here). The government of Japan had such weak regulation of the nuclear industry that it was completely reliant on TEPCO for all information about the state of the plants and the risks to the public. It was reduced to being an echo chamber for the denials coming from a company that was lying. The people living near the plants, and downwind as the plumes from explosions in three plants carried radionuclides high into the air and deposited large amounts of radiation far beyond the evacuation zones, had to make life and death decisions as they were being lied to and manipulated. Clouds hang over Fukushima City (by author, 2015) Lying about nuclear issues is not unique to Japan or Fukushima. It began with the first use of nuclear weapons against human beings, in
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The article examines the official responses to radiation contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in the context of other radiological disasters. It shows that where information is withheld from the public there are alternative archives from which to draw and methods of testimony.
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For the authors of these papers, as is true for many of us, there is a special urgency associated with the acceleration of environmental degradation and its negative impact on individual human lives to which we bear witness in Asia and elsewhere. While truly "natural" disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis are strikingly devastating, it is the destruction of environments from anthropogenic sources that are often the most frustrating. That is, we believe that because human beings caused the problems, we should be able to fix them, and, indeed, as humanists it is axiomatic that we are committed to improving the human condition. Over the past few decades, however, there has been a growing awareness that human interaction with the natural environment may be creating a world, for the most part, unfit for human habitation. It is out of this awareness that the term "Anthropocene" has emerged, describing that epoch during which human activity has reached such a level of intensity that it has had a discernable impact on the earth itself. Thus, as these writers suggest, it is imperative for us as regional specialists to engage in conversations across disciplines and geographic areas that provide opportunities to increase our understanding of the Anthropocene in Asia in all of its local and global dimensions.
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Teenage schoolgirls in Le Roy, New York, captured the attention of the U.S. public in 2011 and 2012 when they developed acute motor and vocal tics. Dramatic images of the girls’ involuntary movements were briefly seen on national news and social media before clinical neurologists diagnosed the girls with “mass psychogenic illness” and required their retreat from media as part of the cure. Drawing from perspectives in medical and linguistic anthropology as well as the anthropology of expertise, we interrogate how this diagnosis, called “mass hysteria” in a previous generation of Freudian psychology, came to be favored over attribution to a potential environmental cause. Neurologists countered the evidential vagueness of environmental claims by suggesting that material proof of psychological origin could lie in fMRI data, contributing to a public narrative on female adolescent brains and rural U.S. communities that foreclosed environmental inquiry. [brain imaging, environmental toxicity, expertise, mass hysteria, media discourse, mimicry, neurology]
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In the nineteenth century, the Mekong, Red, and Chao Phraya river deltas in Southeast Asia underwent a massive expansion in agricultural settlement and engineering (Dao and Molle 2000). Contending with crocodiles and herds of wild elephants in addition to more prosaic insect and bird pests (Terwiel 1989), settlers struggled successfully to make these deltas highly productive centers of rice and other agriculture. Such struggles, which were until very recently confidently labeled as "Man's Conquest of Nature", used to be seen as representing Progress with a capital P. Historically, few men or women had doubts about the real struggle involved in making a living from Nature. In a lecture given in 1877, William Morris explained that "the race of man must either labour or perish. Nature does not give us our livelihood gratis; we must win it by toil of some sort or degree" (W. Morris 2008, 1). Human evolution could thus be summarized as a story in which "Man struggled with nature, and he is conquering it gradually through his intelligence, inventiveness, and skill" (Sigerist 1936, 597). Progress was the process by which Man Makes Himself, to cite the title of Gordon Childe's influential 1936 book on archaeology. By the nineteenth century, the problem for socialists such as Morris was that "the fruits of our victory over Nature [have] been stolen from us" (W. Morris 2008, 10); the basic necessity of "conquering" Nature was not disputed.
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This article traces disagreements about the genetic effects of low-dose radiation exposure as waged by James Neel (1915-2000), a central figure in radiation studies of Japanese populations after World War II, and Yuri Dubrova (1955-), who analyzed the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. In a 1996 article in Nature, Dubrova reported a statistically significant increase in the minisatellite (junk) DNA mutation rate in the children of parents who received a high dose of radiation from the Chernobyl accident, contradicting studies that found no significant inherited genetic effects among offspring of Japanese A-bomb survivors. Neel's subsequent defense of his large-scale longitudinal studies of the genetic effects of ionizing radiation consolidated current scientific understandings of low-dose ionizing radiation. The article seeks to explain how the Hiroshima/Nagasaki data remain hegemonic in radiation studies, contextualizing the debate with attention to the perceived inferiority of Soviet genetic science during the Cold War.
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As a result of atmospheric nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk test site 'Polygon', adjacent territories were contaminated by radionuclide fallout. The population of some districts in the Semipalatinsk oblast were exposed to elevated levels of radiation. Contamination and exposure mostly resulted from early atmospheric tests. The radiological situation of the Semipalatinsk oblast is described. Effective dose estimates due to external and internal exposure attributable to the 1949 and 1953 tests in villages near the Polygon range from 70 mSv to 4470 mSv.
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Little information is available on the health effects of exposures to fallout from Soviet nuclear weapons testing and on the combined external and internal environmental exposures that have resulted from these tests. This paper reports the first analysis of the Semipalatinsk historical cohort exposed in the vicinity of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, Kazakhstan. The cohort study, which includes 19,545 inhabitants of exposed and comparison villages of the Semipalatinsk region, was set up in the 1960s and comprises 582,750 person-years of follow-up between 1960 and 1999. Cumulative effective radiation dose estimates in this cohort range from 20 mSv to approximately 4 Sv. Rates of mortality and cancer mortality in the exposed group substantially exceeded those of the comparison group. Dose-response analyses within the exposed group confirmed a significant trend with dose for all solid cancers (P < 0.0001) and for digestive and respiratory cancers (P = 0.0255 and P < 0.0001), whereas no consistent dose-response trend was found for all causes of death (P = 0.4296). Regarding specific cancer sites, a significant trend with dose was observed for lung cancer (P = 0.0001), stomach cancer (P = 0.0050), and female breast cancer (P = 0.0040) as well as for esophagus cancer in women (P = 0.0030). The excess relative risk per sievert for all solid cancers combined was 1.77 (1.35; 2.27) based on the total cohort data, yet a selection bias regarding the comparison group could not be entirely ruled out. The excess relative risk per sievert based on the cohort's exposed group was 0.81 (0.46; 1.33) for all solid cancers combined and thus still exceeds current risk estimates from the Life Span Study. Future epidemiological assessments based on this cohort will benefit from extension of follow-up and ongoing validation of dosimetric data.
This book is the seventh in a series of titles from the National Research Council that addresses the effects of exposure to low dose LET (Linear Energy Transfer) ionizing radiation and human health. Updating information previously presented in the 1990 publication, Health Effects of Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR V, this book draws upon new data in both epidemiologic and experimental research. Ionizing radiation arises from both natural and man-made sources and at very high doses can produce damaging effects in human tissue that can be evident within days after exposure. However, it is the low-dose exposures that are the focus of this book. So-called "late" effects, such as cancer, are produced many years after the initial exposure. This book is among the first of its kind to include detailed risk estimates for cancer incidence in addition to cancer mortality. BEIR VII offers a full review of the available biological, biophysical, and epidemiological literature since the last BEIR report on the subject and develops the most up-to-date and comprehensive risk estimates for cancer and other health effects from exposure to low-level ionizing radiation. © 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
In spite of decades of research on toxicants, along with the growing role of scientific expertise in public policy and the unprecedented rise in the number of national and international institutions dealing with environmental health issues, problems surrounding contaminants and their effects on health have never appeared so important, sometimes to the point of appearing insurmountable. This calls for a reconsideration of the roles of scientific knowledge and expertise in the definition and management of toxic issues, which this book seeks to do. It looks at complex historical, social, and political dynamics, made up of public controversies, environmental and health crises, economic interests, and political responses, and demonstrates how and to what extent scientific knowledge about toxicants has been caught between scientific, economic, and political imperatives.
The Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan was conceived as an experimental landscape where science, technology, Soviet Cold War militarism, and human biology intersected. As of 2015, thousands of people continue to live in rural communities in the immediate vicinity of this polluted landscape. Lacking good economic options, many of them claim to be “mutants” adapted to radiation, while outsiders see them as genetically tainted. In such a setting, how do post-Soviet social, political, and economic transformations operate with radioactivity to co-constitute a “mutant” subjectivity? Today, villagers think of themselves as biologically transformed but not disabled, showing that there is no uniform way of understanding the effects of radioactive pollution, including among scientists. [Kazakhstan, Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site, subjectivity, toxic environments, low-dose radiation, nuclear testing]
Notes on contributors Acknowledgements 1. The Idiom of Co-production Sheila Jasanoff 2. Ordering Knowledge, Ordering Society Sheila Jasanoff 3. Climate Science and the Making of a Global Political Order Clark A. Miller 4. Co-producing CITES and the African Elephant Charis Thompson 5. Knowledge and Political Order in the European Environment Agency Claire Waterton and Brian Wynne 6. Plants, Power and Development: Founding the Imperial Department of Agriculture for the West Indies, 1880-1914 William K. Storey 7. Mapping Systems and Moral Order: Constituting property in genome laboratories Stephen Hilgartner 8. Patients and Scientists in French Muscular Dystrophy Research Vololona Rabeharisoa and Michel Callon 9. Circumscribing Expertise: Membership categories in courtroom testimony Michael Lynch 10. The Science of Merit and the Merit of Science: Mental order and social order in early twentieth-century France and America John Carson 11. Mysteries of State, Mysteries of Nature: Authority, knowledge and expertise in the seventeenth century Peter Dear 12. Reconstructing Sociotechnical Order: Vannevar Bush and US science policy Michael Aaron Dennis 13. Science and the Political Imagination in Contemporary Democracies Yaron Ezrah 14. Afterword Sheila Jasanoff References Index
State-led urban development projects, especially in non-democratic settings, are conducive to a top–down analytic that focuses on state planners and architects. The goal of this article is to explore how we might decentre this narrative and jointly consider elite and non-elite narratives, through an analysis of discourses of modernity as enacted in and through these statist urban projects. Deploying a practice-based analytic, I explore how notions of ‘modernity’ are performed and enacted through the exclusionary practices of elites and non-elites alike. Taking the case of Kazakhstan's new capital city, Astana, I examine how the state-led urban modernisation agenda simultaneously draws upon and re-inscribes a set of interlocking popular geographic imaginaries (Soviet/modern, urban/rural, north/south), and demonstrate how ordinary citizens are not just passive spectators, but active participants in the political drama of state- and city-building.
I am apt to think, if we knew what it was to be an angel for one hour, we should return to this world, though it were to sit on the brightest throne in it, with vastly more loathing and reluctance than we would now descend into a loathsome dungeon or sepulchre. 1 Berkley (1685-1753) Extreme human enhancement could result in “posthuman ” modes of being. After offering some definitions and conceptual clarification, I argue for two theses. First, some posthuman modes of being would be very worthwhile. Second, it could be very good for human beings to become posthuman. 1. Setting the stage The term “posthuman ” has been used in very different senses by different authors. 2 I am sympathetic to the view that the word often causes more confusion than clarity, and that we might be better off replacing it with some alternative vocabulary. However, as the purpose of this paper is not to propose terminological reform but to argue for certain substantial normative theses (which one would naturally search for in the literature under the label “posthuman”), I will
The data collected in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the past 40 years on the children of survivors of the atomic bombings and on the children of a suitable control population are analyzed on the basis of the newly revised estimates of radiation doses. No statistically significant effects emerge with respect to eight different indicators. Since, however, it may confidently be assumed some mutations were induced, we have taken the data at face value and calculated the minimal gametic doubling doses of acute radiation for the individual indicators at various probability levels. An effort has also been made to calculate the most probable doubling dose for the indicators combined. The latter value is between 1.7 and 2.2 Sv. It is suggested the appropriate figure for chronic radiation would be between 3.4 and 4.5 Sv. These estimates suggest humans are less sensitive to the genetic effects of radiation than has been assumed on the basis of past extrapolations from experiments with mice.
Germline mutation at human minisatellite loci has been studied among children born in heavily polluted areas of the Mogilev district of Belarus after the Chernobyl accident and in a control population. The frequency of mutation was found to be twice as high in the exposed families as in the control group. Mutation rate in the Mogilev families was correlated with the level of caesium-137 surface contamination, consistent with radiation induction of germline mutation.
Numerous case series have addressed the concern that cancer therapy may damage germ cells, leading to clinical disease in offspring of survivors. None has documented an increased risk. However, the methodological problems of small series make it difficult to draw firm conclusions regarding the potential of cancer treatments to damage the health of future offspring. We conducted a large interview study of adult survivors of childhood cancer treated before 1976. Genetic disease occurred in 3.4% of 2,198 offspring of survivors, compared with 3.1% of 4,544 offspring of controls (P=.33; not significant); there were no statistically significant differences in the proportion of offspring with cytogenetic syndromes, single-gene defects, or simple malformations. A comparison of survivors treated with potentially mutagenic therapy with survivors not so treated showed no association with sporadic genetic disease (P=.49). The present study provides reassurance that cancer treatment using older protocols does not carry a large risk for genetic disease in offspring conceived many years after treatment. With 80% power to detect an increase as small as 40% in the rate of genetic disease in offspring, this study did not do so. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that new therapeutic agents or specific combinations of agents at high doses may damage germ cells.
A summary of the gametic doubling doses for acute, “high-dose” radiation of spermatogonia yielded by the various specific-locus/specific-phenotype systems developed in the laboratory mouse, after Neel and Lewis (17)
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