Lake Chagan, The Atomic Lake Filled With Radioactive Water

Mar 22, 2014 12 comments

During the hey days of Cold War, the Soviet started blowing up nukes all over northeastern Kazakhstan to investigate the possibility of using nuclear power for peaceful construction purposes such as moving earth, creating canals and reservoirs, drilling for oil and so on. The tests were carried out under the banner of “Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy”. This was the Soviet version of “Operation Plowshare” – a similar program devised by the U.S.

Having borrowed the terrible idea from the U.S., the Soviet program got underway in vigor and ended up being many times larger than the U.S. Plowshare program both in terms of the number of applications explored with field experiments and the extent to which they were introduced into industrial use. While the U.S. conducted 27 tests before realizing it was a bad idea and terminated the program in 1977, the Soviets continued right up to 1989 during which as many as 156 nuclear tests were conducted.


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One of the better known tests is the January 1965 test at Chagan, on the edge of the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan. The Chagan test was designed to test the suitability of nuclear explosions for creating reservoirs. It was the first and largest of all detonations carried in the Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy program. A 140 kiloton device was placed in a 178 meter deep hole in the dry bed of the Chagan River so that the crater lip would dam up the river during periods of high flow. The blast created a crater 400 meters across and 100 meters deep with a lip height of 20 to 38 meters. Later, a channel was cut into the crater allowing it, and the reservoir behind it, to fill up with water.

The reservoir, known informally as Lake Chagan, still exist today in substantially the same form. The water continues to be radioactive - about 100 times more than the permitted level of radionuclides in drinking water, though 100-150 meters away dose levels were at background level. At that time of its creation, the Soviet government was proud of Lake Chagan. They made a film with the Minister of the Medium Machine Building Ministry, the one responsible for the entire Soviet nuclear weapons program, taking a swim in the crater lake and water from it was used to feed cattle in the area.

It was estimated that some 20% of the radioactive products from the Chagan test escaped the blast zone, and were detected over Japan. This infuriated the USA for violating the provisions of the October 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, which banned atmospheric tests. The Soviets replied that it was an underground test and the quantity of radioactive debris that escaped into the atmosphere was insignificant. After several subsequent interactions, the matter was eventually abandoned

Also see: Sedan Nuclear Crater in Nevada Test Site, based on which the Chagan test was conducted.

Video of the nuclear test that created Lake Chagan.


Satellite picture of Lake Chagan (the circular crater) and the reservoir (below).


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Sources: Wikipedia, World-Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons Archive


  1. Even though I don't speak Russian the video is fascinating. That guy swimming in the lake likely died a painful radiation related early death.

    1. If it was Minister of the Medium Machine Building Ministry, then you are wrong. He died 93 years old.

  2. In fact, it's not the only person who died of really old age after getting exposed to radiation. Manuel Fraga lived 90 years and he swimmed in a place in which a nuclear submarine had sunk. There's also the case of the UPPU (you pee plutonium) club, 26 workers exposed to radiation who actually lived longer than the rest of the population. The reason might be that this small level of radiation kills bacteria and viruses that would kill you in the long run, or it might be that those persons took more care of their lives since the accident.
    Note however that politicians are a bad example as they tend to live longer than the rest of the population; my personal theory is because they don't do any actual work during their lives, as there's a positive correlation between working hard and dying early (which also explains why women live longer than men).

    1. Excuse me. Women work just as hard as men, thank you very much.

    2. I laugh when people say women work just as hard as men, women get off easy every step of the way, they are so protected and privileged that they literally have no clue as to what real work is.

    3. Where do you live? 'Cause women here in the USA have jobs, raise children, and put up with their husbands. If that doesn't count as work, then what does?

    4. That's work, not hard work. Mining would be a good example of a HARD work and as of 2012, 92.5% of the employees were men (US stats).
      Anyways, it's really interesting to know that not all cases of radiation exposition ends with premature deaths.

    5. women do work hard ,,my wife is a legend,strong,beautiful and clever
      but she cannot and will not do the bastard jobs that i do,,sometimes physically damaging (and profitable) and pain inspiring,,but she is a hard worker,,among the hardest i have known.mining is not a good example of hard work by the way,,unless your doing it yourself (lightning ridge)hard work is being a fisherman or a sandblaster or a roadie ,,all of which i have done for many years at a time.

    6. *eye roll* Mining, working on shop floors, food service industry, etc are all low paying jobs. Politicians, office workers, lawyers etc are higher paying jobs. If you have more money, you can afford to splash out on your own health. Politicians especially as their job is basically stress free, comes with copious amounts of vacation and a wonderful retirement package. You couldn't get much more health than that!

  3. It wasn't a terrible idea, the US program was restrained and cancelled for political reasons.

  4. lol at this article for blaming america on negatively influencing russia to make nuclear lakes.


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