Dark tourism: eight scary places that resemble what man or nature can do

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union experimented with the use of nuclear energy for construction purposes, such as moving earth, creating canals and dams, or extracting oil. Therefore, he gradually detonated several atomic bombs in the northeastern territory of today’s Kazakhstan as part of the “Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy” program.

It was a Soviet version of the American program “Operation Plowshare”. After borrowing a terrible idea from the United States, the USSR launched with great vigor, and in the end it was many times larger than the American program, both in terms of the number of attempts and the extent of their introduction into industrial use. While the United States conducted 27 tests before realizing it was not a good idea and ended the program in 1977, the Soviets continued until 1989. performed up to 156 nuclear tests.

A lake created by a nuclear explosion

One of the most famous tests took place on January 15, 1965 in Chagan on the outskirts of the Semipalatin Test Center in Kazakhstan. Its aim was to verify the suitability of nuclear explosions for the construction of reservoirs. It was the first and largest of all detonations carried out under the Nuclear Explosions program for the national economy.

The 140-kilometer facility was placed in a 178-meter-deep pit in the dry bed of the Chagan River (Irtysh tributary) so that the edge of the crater dammed the river during periods of high flows. The explosion created a crater with a diameter of 400 meters and a depth of 100 meters with an edge height of 20 to 38 meters. A layer of molten rock resembling glass formed at the bottom. Later, a canal was cut into the crater, which allowed it to be filled with water.

A reservoir with a volume of approximately 10 million cubic meters, informally known as Lake Chagan, exists in essentially the same form to this day. Water is still radioactive – it contains almost a hundred times higher level of radionuclides than the permitted level in drinking water. According to eyewitnesses, the water usually has an unpleasant odor.

Click for larger image Lake Chagan in Google Maps

At the time of its inception, the Soviet government was proud of Lake Chagan. She even had a film made with the Minister of Engineering, who was responsible for the entire Soviet nuclear program, how to bathe in a crater lake. Water from it was used to feed cattle in the surrounding areas. Despite the risks known today, the locals are said to be fishing on the lake (according to other sources, however, there is no life in the lake).

Tourist attraction

It is estimated that approximately 20% of the radioactive fumes from the Chagan test escaped from the explosion area and were found only above Japan. This infuriated the United States, which considered it a violation of the October 1963 treaty banning nuclear atmospheric testing. The Soviets replied that it was an underground test and that the amount of radioactive substances that escaped into the atmosphere was negligible, according to them.

In 2018, Lake Chagan appeared in the documentary series Dark Tourist broadcast on Netflix. In the fourth episode of the first series, New Zealand journalist and actor David Farrier visited the lake during his trip to Kazakhstan, he swam in it and consumed the fish he caught.

In recent years, the lake has become a place that tourists can visit. In promotional materials, it is often referred to as “Atom Lake” and before visitors go there to see the crater and the surrounding landscape, they must wear protective clothing and masks.

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