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Water Quality at the Semipalatinsk Test Site


Investigation of Natural Water Quality (Ecological Aspect) of the Former Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site (SNTS) Using Biological Objects of Different Classification Groups

Tech Area / Field

  • ENV-WPC/Water Pollution and Control/Environment
  • BIO-RAD/Radiobiology/Biotechnology
  • BIO-MIB/Microbiology/Biotechnology

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
National Nuclear Center of the Republic of Kazakstan / Institute of Geophysical Researches, Kazakstan, Kurchatov

Supporting institutes

  • Institute of Microbiology and Virology, Kazakstan, Almaty\nSPAAE "Kazmekhanobr", Kazakstan, Almaty


  • University of Turku / Finnish-Russian Joint Biotechnology Laboratory, Finland, Turku\nLawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA, CA, Livermore

Project summary

There is a range of water sources in the SNTS (the former Semipalatinsk Nuclear Testing Site) and adjacent territories, which have been and are still being exposed to ionising radiation. This is threatening the ecological function of the water, and its biological validity. The biological validity of water means its ability to provide for the normal functioning of physiological and biochemical processes which underly the heredity of organisms. The presence of biologically valuable water also stipulates human health.

The goal of the Project is to solve the problem of the biological validity of the natural water of the SNTS and to elaborate a complex method of rapid and economical analysis with a view to ecological monitoring, which includes methods of biotesting as an obligatory element.

The need for such complex analysis, namely including biotesting methods as an obligatory element, is founded on the fact that the existing methodology of normalization and control does not correspond to up-to-date requirements of ecological control, because it covers only a small part of real existing toxic agents, without taking into account their synergetic effect and the huge costs, involving both money and time.

One must have simple and effective facilities for express-estimation of the biological quality of water, taking into account the scale of man-caused wastes over large territories of the STS and adjacent territories. It is suggested that the biological quality of natural water on the SNTS be tested using biotesting methods, with the application of different taxonomical groups of organisms as tests-objects (microorganisms, algae, high water plants, plankton animals).

According to the newest developments in the field of biological testing, in addition to standard methods, biotesting analytical systems, which are based on biophysical methods (luminescence, fluorescence, electric conductivity, etc) as more sensitive test-functions, are used; in the first instance they react to the impact of the environment as biological process disturbances.

The following tasks will be realized during the course of the project:

– water assay sampling on the SNTS, using standard methods, short chemical analysis of hydrogeological samples and determination of radionuclide composition of investigated water samples for comparison with the results obtained from the biological tests;
– development of microbiological testing systems using bioluminescence measurement, electric conductivity and the method of nurturing model tumor growth;
– using methods of fluorescence color intensity, conductometry, spectrophotometrical determination of density of algae cultivation and visual observation for the morphological changes of plants, to estimate the ecological quality of water;
– estimation of the impact of water samples with methods of biological testing of plankton;
– creation of a database on the basis of biomedical information;
– interpretation of obtained results.

The result of work on the Project will be the elaboration of an economical method for express determination of the biological quality of water, and its safety in contact with people near places where water sources have been exposed to ionizing radiation.

Complex investigation of the biological quality of SNTS water will lead to the creation of a scientific base to forecast the effects stipulated by the interaction of water exposed to radiation with different biological objects, to the monitoring of radionuclide contamination in the sites of nuclear explosions, to the development of methods for treating and rehabilitation of people exposed to radiation, etc.

In addition, the possible recycling of certain SNTS areas towards economic activity will be studied. The results of work on the Project can be used by nature protection organizations when monitoring natural waters.

Project work will be fulfilled by highly professional specialists from IGR, who possess many years of experience in the research of geoecological and eco-geochemical processes on the STS and in the migration of radionuclides in natural water. Project participants also include specialists from the biological testing laboratory of SPAAE “Kazmechanobr”, which works full-time on determining the toxicity of liquid and solid wastes from mining factories, and specialists from the Institute of Microbiology and Virology, involving long-term investigations in the selection and physiology of microorganisms on the impact of different xenobiotics and the use of microorganisms during ecological research.


The International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) is an intergovernmental organization connecting scientists from Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia with their peers and research organizations in the EU, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway and the United States.


ISTC facilitates international science projects and assists the global scientific and business community to source and engage with CIS and Georgian institutes that develop or possess an excellence of scientific know-how.

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