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Kazakhstan reels from impact of nuclear tests, 20 years on via AFP

By Aleks Tapinsh (AFP) – 1 day ago

SEMEY, Kazakhstan — The 79-year-old Yevdokia Matushkina struggles to remember. Her memories often fail her.

Except one.

Sitting in her tiny room at a home for the elderly in the eastern Kazakh city of Semey, Matushkina remembers the days when the loud blasts of nuclear tests several hundred kilometres away frightened everyone.

A total of 456 nuclear tests were conducted at the test site over 42 years until Kazakhstan shut down the facility 20 years ago on August 29, 1991, making it the first country to voluntarily give up nuclear weapons.

“I was working in a medical institute, teaching chemistry. Almost every day, announcements on the radio at noon would say: ‘Now there is going to be a test of nuclear weapons.’ Everything would shake. The windows in my classroom were shattered by the shockwave from one of the blasts,” Matushkina said.

On August 29, 1949 at 7 am, the first Soviet nuclear bomb — named First Lightning — exploded in the steppe of eastern Kazakhstan, throwing up a huge mushroom cloud and dumping vast amounts of radioactive materials on the 1.5 million people living in the nuclear impact zone, which is the size of Belgium.

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