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Nuclear bomb test during the 1954 military exercises on Totskoye range Nuclear bomb test during the 1954 military exercises on Totskoye range

14 September

On September 14, 1954, at 9.33 am, a 40-kiloton nuclear bomb was blown up as part of the training at the Totsky facility in the Orenburg region of the Soviet Union.

In the 1950s, the government was seriously preparing for World War III. After tests in the US, Soviet officials thought it was essential to have “the bomb” in the Soviet Union. They chose the steppes of Orenburg due to their close resemblance to the landscapes of the Western Europe.

The preparatory activities for the “Snowball” operation lasted three months. By the end of the summer the field was all filled with trenches and barricaded.

The explosion occurred at an altitude of 380 yards. Out of the 45,000 soldiers who participated in the training, only 2,000 people have survived to the present day, and more than half of them remained handicapped or terminally ill for the rest of their lives.

The nuclear explosion was followed by a massive military training session, with people staying in the open air, unprotected from the radioactive emission, and with jets flying straight through the “mushroom cloud”. The number of bombs and mines exploded at the site that day exceeded those during the Berlin military operation in the WWII.

Back then, it was primarily the blast wave that the command deemed to be the greatest danger, never minding the much more dreadful and long-lasting impact the fallout from the blast had on the participating troops.

All of the participants of the training signed a 25-year-long gag order, and all the materials were classified as strictly confidential and were only disclosed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the same time the surviving participants of the tragedy were finally allowed to talk. Dying from cancer, early heart attacks and strokes, they couldn’t even reveal to their doctors what they had been a part of.

Neither the local population nor the soldiers themselves were informed about what the real purpose of the training was and what kind of bomb was being tested.

On the eve of the training, the officers were shown a film about nuclear explosions, explaining what a huge honor it was for the soldiers to be a part of such major test. The local villagers were asked to relocate temporarily 30 miles away from the explosion site.

A day before the explosion Nikita Khrushchev came to the training facility, accompanied by the father of the atomic bomb, Igor Kurchatov. Marshal Georgy Zhukov was appointed the head of the training.

After the bomb exploded, the wind changed direction, carrying the nuclear cloud right toward Orenburg and Krasnoyarsk, as opposed to the deserted steppe as the scientists had predicted.

When the locals returned to their home villages, they were given new, but radioactive houses, to replace their older burnt ones. Oblivious, the people settled down, collected radioactive grain and potatoes. For a while afterwards, they kept noticing strange infernal glowing coming from logs in the dark.

No medical examinations were undertaken to test the condition of the people who were influenced by the radioactive waves. Everything was concealed. The losses among the citizens have still not been calculated. The archives of the Totsk hospital have been destroyed. The third generation of people who live in the area of the Totsk facility have a high incidence of cancer. The immune system of their children is so weak that they are practically unable to fight any disease.

Participants of the Totsk tests were given no documentation identifying them as such. They were only officially recognized after the Chernobyl tragedy in 1986.