Economic Development of the Soviet-Era Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan

Dr Magdalena Stawkowski visits the TIK centre and the Toxicity Reading Group to give a talk on the recent repurposing of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan.


Magda Stawkowski, Assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and a faculty associate at the Walker Institute for International Studies, University of South Carolina

The seminar

This presentation explores the recent repurposing of the former Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan, from military zone, to highly productive resource landscape. Stawkowski examines the context for various post-Cold War economies that have taken off at Semipalatinsk and examine local, regional, and national governance regimes that are all rooted in varying interpretations of environmental history, scientific knowledge, and existing relationships of populations with radioactivity and corporate interests.

Kazakhstan inherited one of the world's most "disturbed" Cold War landscapes, polluted with residual radioactivity and heavy metals from nuclear testing. But Kazakhstan also inherited the vast steppe ranges, including Semipalatinsk, where rich deposits of coal, gold, copper, and other extractable ores can be easily harvested, with increasing development a priority. The contemporary situation exhibits a surprising lack of resistance to economic development of the territory by both local residents, national and non-governmental organizations, and global institutions.

Perhaps more surprising, and what I locate as key to understanding the contemporary situation, is the seeming solidarity between corporate interests and local populations all of whom are eager to make use of the radioactive landscape in spite of all that is known in other similar spatial configurations about the toxic politics that this alliance foresees.

Published June 4, 2019 2:19 PM - Last modified Feb. 10, 2020 10:23 AM