Kazakhstan may not have much of a reputation as a tourist destination, but with the removal this year of most the country's significant nuclear infrastructure, the former Soviet Republic became the first country in the world to voluntarily give up its nuclear program while further opening the dark heart of Cold War nuclear jockeying to visitors.
A vast swath of eastern Kazakhstan is littered with the cement skeletons of the Soviet installation where over 450 nuclear tests took place as the east and the west stared each other down. Though many of these abandoned buildings still sit in the middle of empty fields and sparsely populated villages, the testing wells that once pockmarked the area have now been shut down, sealing in at least some of the area's radioactive waste. It might not be Club Med, but this corner of the the Central Asian Steppe can given travelers a real perspective on the conflict that defined the modern world.
Other nuclear test sites also provide the opportunity for travelers to see something both exotic and significant. Though invariably far flung -- the idea being to minimize impact on larger populations -- these sites have natural, military and radioactive histories that are all tethered together by happenstance and national ambitions. Some, like Bikini Atoll, are beautiful while others, like Lop Nur, are basically as close as humans can get to Hades, but each offers its own glimpse into the Cold War mentality and a vision of the holocaust the world has avoided thus far.
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