Weird History
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Unearthed Footage Shows The Soviets Peacefully Nuking A Natural Wonder Into Existence

Updated September 13, 2019 15.4k views10 items

Lake Chagan burst into existence during the Cold War when the Soviet Union detonated numerous nuclear explosions in northeastern Kazakhstan to find alternative uses for its bombs. Though it was an initiative of the Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy program and was realized in 1965, this man-made water source was hardly well-known. Newly uncovered footage shows the Russians creating this lake in a great plume of mushroom-shaped smoke. While Lake Chagan is still largely radioactive and thusly impossible to drink from, it's breathtaking to behold. 

Check out how the United States created fake towns to test nuclear weapons and learn from the eye-opening photos of Fukushima after its nuclear disaster. Also, read some atomic bomb survivor stories here.

  • An "Atomic Lake" Was Created

    Photo: USGS/NASA Landsat Program / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In January 1965, Russia detonated an underground nuclear bomb in Chagan near the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan with the intent of creating a reservoir. The 140-kiloton device formed a crater that was 1,339 feet wide and 330 feet deep after it was put in a hole 584 feet down. They filled the crater with water by digging a channel from a nearby river, hoping the crater would dam up once it overflowed. Today, the crater is known as Lake Chagan or the "Atomic Lake" and it's filled with radioactive water.

  • The Goal Was To Find Alternative Uses For Nuclear Devices

    Video: YouTube

    In addition to creating Lake Chagan, the Russian government detonated nuclear bombs to create underground storage for natural gas and toxic waste. They were also able to find natural gas deposits, crush ore, and create dams with the highly reactive explosives. Unsurprisingly, the program resulted in widespread pollution and seemed to cause more harm than good so President Mikhail Gorbachev discontinued it in 1989 as part of his disarmament initiative.

  • Russia Carried Out Various Nuclear Tests For A Quarter Of A Century

    The detonation of the bomb at Chagan was the first test under the Soviet Union's Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy initiative. The country continued performing tests for nearly 25 years. By the time the program ended in 1989, 156 nuclear tests had been enacted.

  • The United States Performed Similar Tests

    Photo: United States Department of Energy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Russia wasn't the only country seeking alternative uses for its nuclear devices. The United States performed 27 explosive tests before deciding to end their program - Operation Plowshare - in 1977. The Russians, however, were very invested in Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy. They conducted more tests than the United States in order to find ways to harness power from the nuclear devices and were, for a time, very proud of their developments.