Kazakh woman, former student in Hiroshima, publishes book about accounts of victims of nuclear testing in Kazakhstan

by Sakiko Masuda, Staff Writer

Akerke Sultanova, a resident of Tokyo who was born in Kazakhstan and once studied at Sanyo Girls’ School Junior and Senior High in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, has published a book titled Kakujikkenchi ni sumu (Living at a Nuclear Test Site). The book was issued by Kadensha, a Japanese publishing company. The former Soviet Union used Kazakhstan as a place for repeatedly conducting nuclear tests. In the book, she tracks the hardships experienced by about 80 people living near the nuclear test site.

From 1949 to 1989, more than 450 nuclear tests, including atmospheric nuclear tests, were carried out at the Semipalatinsk test site located in Kazakhstan. As a result, the residents living near the site were exposed to radiation emitted by the tests, without even being informed of the consequences of this testing. When Ms. Sultanova was in graduate school at Hitotsubashi University, she made return visits to her homeland in 2009, 2011, and 2012, and pursued a series of interviews with local residents in Semipalatinsk to capture their accounts. Her work was inspired by Hiroshima’s efforts to hand down the experiences of the A-bomb survivors to younger generations.

Statements made about the very first nuclear test are very vivid. “A cloud, like a cabbage, appeared in the sky,” said one. “Something like fog spread through the village, and smelled like smoke,” said another. About a hydrogen bomb test in 1953, one of those Ms. Sultanova interviewed said, “On that day, everyone in my family got sick.”

Ms. Sultanova obtained some notes one man had made. According to these notes, when residents were forced to leave their homes because of an upcoming nuclear test, 40 people were intentionally left back and taken to a grassy field. They were waiting there when the nuclear explosion occurred. After that, they were given a blood test almost every month. It seems possible that these people were used as guinea pigs to study the effects of nuclear weapons.

The interviews undertaken by Ms. Sultanova also made clear that the residents have long been worried about their health. Not only have people suffered from heart disease and cancer, there have been many cases of suicide. Some of the women said that they felt anxious about whether or not it would be safe to have children. One woman revealed that she had had three abortions since the first time she became pregnant, but said that she still wanted to have a child.

On July 7, Ms. Sultanova came to Hiroshima and reported on the damages that the nuclear tests wrought in Kazakhstan. She said that, in addition to strengthening medical support for the victims of nuclear testing there, mental health care is also needed. She also said that she hopes people’s accounts of the nuclear tests in Kazakhstan can be carefully maintained, like the accounts of the A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so the reality of the nuclear tests can be known widely in the world.

(Originally published on July 23, 2018)