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Friday, February 16, 2007

Novaya Zemlya

I'm sad. In my absolute ignorance of geography, I just discovered this island, well, this archipelago of two big ones plus a host of small ones. It sits above siberia or there, and reminded me of the place where Stephen Baxter, in his book Behemoth, set his Mammoth stories. In his north siberian island, almost unexplored by humans with the exception of the southernmost part, which hosted a Soviet Air Force base during the cold War, a colony of mammoths manages to survive until our days. The story, mammoths excluded, parallels that of Novaya Zemlya, with another important exception. This site, since the end of the second world war until 1990, has been the main soviet site for nuclear testing, both atmospherical and subterranean. Reading wikipedia, one understands that roughly 70% of his enormous territory has been hit one way or another, by some of the 224 nuclear explosions, for a total of 265MTons. the largest Fusion bomb ever made, the Tsar Bomb (50Mton!!!) was detonated here. What a firecracker!!!

Now I don't think that there were any mammoths left there, since the human inuit-like population would have gotten rid of them much before the rise of western civilisation. But still, when I saw it on google maps I imagined it like an uncontaminated land... Kind of like Kamchatka, which instead, I read, thanks to the very strong military servitude imposed on it has been saved by exploitation of its resources, and is now the main and one of the few refuges of the pacific salmon (I read it on the NY Times some time ago, I think). As a general rule, I think that military servitudes (as they're called in Italy often have the very good side effect of protecting the nature in the training grounds. It holds true for the scottish highlands, for Kamchatka but also for some places in sardinia too. I'm pretty sure that similar examples can be found in the US too. Military exercises are very limited in time, and although they can be disruptive of the natural order at those times, ensure that the forest will be left undisturbed for most of the year, without noisy tourists to soil it.

But then again, one thing is having a tank strolling around for a couple of day, may be even some planes dropping some couple of tons of bombs, or disseminating even depleted uranium projectiles. nature can cope with this... But MegaTon bombs? Radioactive fallout? I don't think so... Do you?

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