Mayluu-Suu, the birthplace of the first Soviet atomic bomb

Gulzat Matisakova | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Once a utopic city of the future, Mayluu-Suu is a small town in the south of Kyrgyzstan, where from 1948-1968, the uranium was extracted. According to the locals, the first Soviet atomic bomb was made of uranium from Mayluu-Suu. The city that was built around uranium mines during the 50s is undoubtedly coming to its tragic end. It is one of the 10 most polluted places on Earth, with high radioactivity. While locals are increasingly leaving their birthplace in search of a better place to live; the interest in this historically significant city grows among researchers, photographers, storytellers, and Soviet-enthusiasts

© RFE/RFL/ Ulan Asanaliev

Cold war nuclear race

When the USA attacked Hiroshima, the Soviet military authority was shocked and utterly scared that there existed a more dangerous military power in the world. So, they started to search for the uranium sources within the country. And, that's how the city of Mailuu-Suu came to be. Despite closing uranium minings in 1968, the town is still radiated as 2 million cubic meters of radioactive mining waste lies underground. Within a population of 16-18.000 people, there are 800-900 people with disabilities. In case of spilling of uranium-oxide in the rivers,  there would be an ecological tragedy worse than in Chernobyl, as it would affect all the neighboring countries.

© Tatyana Kudryavceva

The ruins of an optimistic communist future

In the old documentary made in the Soviet Union, the city of Mayluu-Suu is presented as an example of the Soviet mightiness. People from all over the Soviet Union came to build Mayluu-Suu and stayed here to live. It was a multicultural city with a very educated population, and all the infrastructure necessary for life: hospitals, schools, cinemas, even the cultural centers. Two lamp factories provided lamps for all of the Soviet Union. It still works, but it doesn't produce as much as before. Old inhabitants of the city remember those days with nostalgia


Taking care of safety 

Needless to say, staying in Mailuu-Suu for too long can be very dangerous. The levels of radioactivity are 200 times higher than that recommended by the World Health Organization. The water in the river is polluted, and it is recommended to bring your own water or buy bottled. The seismic activity in the region is high, which raises the risk of a nuclear catastrophe. However, if you like the adrenaline that visiting such a dangerous place would bring, make sure to stay only shortly. If you decide to visit Mailuu-Suu, it's advised to stay in the city as far from the former uranium mines as possible. Mailuu-Suu is located 70 KM away from Jalal-Abad city and can be reached by taxi or public transportation. 


When you arrive in Mayluu-Suu, the city located in the Jalal-Abad region, you can't help but feel the postapocalyptic atmosphere spread all over the ruins of once-prosperous Soviet town on the Kyrgyz mountainous landscape. The streets are empty, the goats are eating grass off the roofs of uranium mines, and closed bazaars (unbelievable in Central Asia) make up for the appropriate unique retro-futuristic scenery of the birthplace of the first atomic bomb. 

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