These 8 countries haven’t stopped one of humanity’s most terrifying legacies

Kazakhstan polygon nuclear test site ben dalton flickr ccby2
A concrete structure in Semipalatinsk that Soviets built to test the effects of nuclear weapons. Ben Dalton/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Seventy years ago, the United States detonated the first nuclear bomb.

This event led to the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a world-wide nuclear arms race, and the explosion of more than 2,150 nukes in test sites around the globe, from 1945 through 2009.

US testing early in that period exposed thousands of people in the islands and atolls of the Pacific Ocean to harmful radiation. But a new YouTube video by Seeker Stories claims that a Soviet-era testing in Semipalatinsk or the “Polygon” — what is now part of northeast Kazakhstan — was the most devastating program of them all.

That New Jersey-sized region saw hundreds of nuclear blasts from 1949 through 1989, exposing more than 1.5 million people and subsequent generations to radioactive fallout. Such radioactive dust and ash can get into drinking water, mix into soil, contaminate livestock and food, and ultimately end up inside peoples’ bodies, where it can harm people and their future children.

The long-term effects on the people of Semipalatinsk are shocking, including unusually high rates of “thyroid diseases, cancer, birth defects, deformities, premature ageing, and cardiovascular disease,” according to a profile of some survivors.

The Polygon and other terrifying legacies of nuclear weapons testing aren’t lost upon the Russian Federation or other nations. In 1996, the United Nations worked to adopt the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) to completely ban nuclear explosions “by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground.”

So far 163 countries have fully agreed to abideabide the treaty, according to the UN commission in charge of the test ban, including France, the UK, and Russia.

Before the CTBT can be enforced, though, eight nuclear-capable countries still need to sign and ratify the document: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and — yes — the United States.

The last known test by an unsigned nation was North Korea, which detonated a nuke underground on February 12, 2013. India and Pakistan detonated bombs in 1998, and the last-known US nuclear tests happened in 1992.

Until the treaty is enacted, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their testing seems likely.

Watch the full video by Seeker Stories below for more on the story of the Polygon and its inhabitants.

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