In a pharmacy on the ground floor of Mailuu-Suu’s central hospital, Ainagul Parpibaeva draws a hand across her throat to gesture “enough.”
“We’re full of illness. Many people have cancer, leukemia. I think this is because of the uranium, but the government never tells us anything,” says the 36-year-old pharmacist. She adds that people come to her complaining of the same ailments over and over, “like children who are nauseous and vomit.”
Everyone in this Soviet-era mining town in southern Kyrgyzstan seems to have a tale of recent loss, often cancer-related. Mailuu-Suu was once closed to outsiders, with workers getting handsome salaries to perform dangerous work. They produced 10,000 metric tons of U3O8, or yellowcake, between 1946 and 1967, providing the fuel for the Soviet Union’s first nuclear weapons and atomic energy plants. They also buried millions of tons of waste along the river.
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