Around Semey (Semepalatinsk)
Kurchatov & the Polygon Kurchatov , 120km west of Semey, was the command centre for the Semipalatinsk Polygon. The nuclear testing zone itself stretched some 100km to 120km south and west from Kurchatov. Today, the semideserted town is home to Kazakhstan’s National Nuclear Centre (Natsionalny Yaderny Tsentr; www.nnc.kz; Lenina 6), which, among other things, works on the development of nuclear power in Kazakhstan. The gruesome museum (admission free; h9am-6pm Mon-Fri) has a model of the first test site, where aircraft, buildings, metro tunnels and live animals were placed close to the explosion to test its effects. Animal parts are pickled in formaldehyde. To organise a visit to Kurchatov, email a request to us about a week in advance. There are also four buses a day to Kurchatov from Semey’s Avtostantsia bus station (Naymanbaev 152). Though only parts of the Polygon itself are officially restricted, and some areas of it can be visited safely, no one should wander in without an expert guide. We can offer trips in conjunction with the National Nuclear Centre that can take you (with safety equipment) to ‘Ground Zero’, where above-ground nuclear explosions happened, and the Degelen mountains, where bombs were exploded in tunnels cut into hillsides.