Jeffrey LewisBaikal 1

As I drove home last night after my class at Georgetown, I happened to hear the second installment in Mike Shuster’s excellent three part series on the completed effort by the US and Kazakhstan to shut down Kazakhstan’s BN-350 plutonium production reactor and transport the spent fuel to a secure storage facility in Northeastern Kazakhstan. (1|2|3)

The story is worth a listen, though one comment did strike me. “The Kazakhstan government doesn’t want me to say exactly where I am.”

I am no information security specialist, but if the Kazakh government doesn’t want Mike Shuster to say where the storage facility is located, maybe it shouldn’t publish that information elsewhere.  The storage facility is at a place called Baikal 1. Want to see it in Google Earth?

Both the Kazakhstan Atomic Energy Committee and the Department of Energy have made clear on several occasions that the long-term storage facility is located at the Baikal 1 reactor complex, near the old Soviet test site of Semipalatinsk.  I took the slide at the top of the post, which clearly identifies the final destination of the fuel from the BN-350, from a 2006 presentation entitled, BN-350 REACTOR SPENT FUEL HANDLING, by Shaiakhmet Shiganakov of the Kazakhstan Atomic Energy Committee.

You can view a 2005 image of Baikal 1 in Google Earth.

As you can see from the image, it matches a (grainy) picture of the reactor complex (below, left), as well as important portions of the artist’s rendering of what the completed site would look like (below, right; notably the “” shaped earthen structure.)

Shuster also provides enough incidental information to strongly suggest that he is, in fact, at Baikal 1 — he notes that the nearest small town is 40 miles away (that would be Kurchatov), implies that he is on or near the Semipalatinsk test site, and interviews a DOE employee who observes that the asphalt plant to repair the road is about 100 km away (just outside Semey, about where the nearest asphalt road is located).

The oddest thing, by the way, is that despite an elaborate yarn about how remote the site is, someone with the handle Tetrix Tetrix posted pictures along the route from from Semey, through the Semipalatinsk Polygon, to a deserted town within 3 kilometers of the front gate of Baikal 1.  I can’t help wondering if that wasn’t a work trip of one sort or another.

Of course, the site is still perfectly secure.  It doesn’t matter if we know where it is, or if Tetrix Tetrix (don’t you just want to call him/her Tetrices?) gets within  couple of clicks on a strange holiday.  After all, even if you could get access to one of the giant casks of material, then what? But perhaps someone is overdoing it with all the secrecy and whatnot.


  1. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    Perhaps the Kazakh government is taking after the its American friend where protecting a specific secret is not a matter of importance, rather instituting the cult of secrecy is. They know anyone who really cares to know can find the place. They’re just training journalists and the public to turn a willful blind eye.

  2. BN350ist (History)

    Actually, the secrecy was a bit of a point of contention with the U.S. and Kazakhstani teams, as the U.S. has, as Mr Lewis points out, identified the site by name for a number of years, including in budget submissions to Congress, progress reports, publicly-accessible presentations, and the like. Kazakhstan has done so as well. All the organizations directly involved in the construction of the site and transport of the material are well aware of its location and never have tried to hide it. It was only as the final shipment was nearing completion that the Kazakhstani security services decided that the location was sensitive and forbade the U.S. to report on it. The U.S. team and the Kazakhstanis involved in the project pointed out the silliness of this requirement, but in the end everyone went along with it as the security services effectively have a trump card for all internal activities and the fear was that they’d cancel press involvement and potentially even the completion ceremony at the facility.

    In the end, it was a small concession to make to keep things on track. But it sadly doesn’t really contradict Andrew’s conspiracy.

    (This wasn’t in a cable, so you won’t find it on wikileaks)

  3. Jeffrey (History)


    That’s just great. That is exactly why I write this blog.

    Thank you so much for sharing.