The doctors observed that residents who lived in proximity to nuclear tests aged prematurely. In some cases, they looked ten years older than their age because of infectious diseases, somatic diseases (a condition when extreme focus on pain and fatigue leads to emotional distress), and generally unfavorable living conditions.
Often locals simultaneously suffered from a range of symptoms, and Kazakh doctors concluded that deficiency in Vitamin C and exposure to radiation were the main culprits. Dr. Atchabarov called the phenomenon “Kainar Syndrome” after one of the villages they visited. People in “cleaner” regions used as a control group for the study also had health issues, but the gravity and number of symptoms weren’t near as bad as in the contaminated areas. Radiation exposure explained the difference between the health of people living near nuclear tests and those in other parts of Kazakhstan.
Animals suffered even more than humans because they spent all their time outside, ate contaminated grass, and remained in close contact with soil that absorbed radioactive particles. The Institute of Regional Pathology team studied thousands of animals, again comparing contaminated areas with areas far from the testing site. Animals exposed to nuclear tests suffered from blood, liver, lung diseases, damaged lungs, bleeding in their respiratory systems, mouths, genitals, and altered brain tissue. Post-mortem tests found strontium-90 in the bones of sheep and dogs. Known as “bone-seeker,” strontium-90 lodges in bone and bone marrow and causes cancer of the bone, nearby tissue, and leukemia.
Our knowledge would not have been possible without the bravery and courage of medical professionals like those in Kazakhstan, who not only conducted this kind of research against all odds, but also recorded the truth.
HOW THE TRUTH STAYED HIDDEN
The findings from a three-year effort filled in 12 volumes with clinical data, observations, and comparison data. In 1961, Kazakhstan’s team traveled to Moscow and presented their research at a “closed” conference at the Institute of Biophysics, a medical institution closely affiliated with the Soviet military. Behind closed doors, Moscow experts dismissed the findings of Kazakhstan’s doctors, arguing that locals’ poor health was the result of severe vitamin deficiency and poor hygiene. The main tactic of the Institute of Biophysics was to criticize the methodology, thus questioning all subsequent findings.
Kazakhstan’s doctors pushed back against the notion that vitamin deficiency was to blame. They explained that while locals lacked Vitamin C, their meat- and dairy-heavy diet supplied other vitamins. One of the doctors from Kazakhstan’s team, Amir Aldanazarov, reminded his Moscow colleagues that people in other rural areas of Kazakhstan also lacked Vitamin C, lived in hard conditions, but still weren’t as sick as people near the testing site:
“Moscow comrades explain away all the changes [in people’s health] with avitaminosis, even though they have no grounds for that. Some people in control areas suffer from avitaminosis too, but the difference in changes [in people’s health] is colossal. Moscow experts do not deny it. I find this statement not only incorrect but slanderous. Everyone knows that Kazakhstan’s population eats bread, meat, milk, dairy products, butter, cheese, kumys [horse milk], and so on in sufficient quantities. If there is any deficiency [in vitamins], it applies to control areas as well. Meanwhile, the difference in changes is colossal, as I said.”**
Kazakhstan’s doctors delivered 19 presentations describing their studies on the radioactivity of soil, confirmed radioactive isotopes in animals, and health sufferings of locals living next to the nuclear testing site. After listening, the Institute of Biophysics specialists concluded that locals’ main problems were brucellosis, tuberculosis, and parasite-related illnesses. After the conference in Moscow, the Soviet government pressured Kazakhstan’s Academy of Sciences to stop the medical expedition from further studies. Kazakhstan’s government did not have the power to stand up to its patrons in Moscow.