Officially the town of Kurchatov didn’t exist – the top secret nature of its major industry meant it wasn’t marked on any maps, and was known only as Semipalatinsk 16, a reference to its postcode.

But in its heyday its population swelled to 20,000 as scientists, soldiers and other military personnel were posted here.

“Between 1949 and 1989, the Soviets detonated 456 nuclear bombs here.”

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the independent Kazakh government decided they no longer wanted nuclear weapons on their territory, the test centre closed and the town was largely abandoned.

A census in 1999 showed there were fewer than 10,000 inhabitants and when Mpora visited in 2003, there were fewer than that.

There are people still living here, and a few scientists remain, studying the long term effects of radiation damage and manning what is now a museum of the town’s former atomic glories.

But much of the town is now derelict – a relic that serves as a chilling reminder of the days when nuclear war was only a button push away.

Photo: Wikipedia