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Nuclear radiation: a life shaped in its shadow

Magda Stawkowski found an unexpected family connection to Kazakhstan when she went to study people who live next to the USSR's former atomic bomb test site. Photo/Robert Kopak

Anthropolgist Magda Stawkowski spent six months in Kazakhstan in and around what had been the Soviet Union's atomic testing range.   Hundreds of nuclear bombs were set off under and above ground in an area the size of Kuwait, where surrounding villagers were used as human guinea pigs. 

She tells us her interest in the effects of radiation on humans came at an early age, when her family in Poland was exposed to the effects of the Chernobyl reactor blast of 1986.   Decades later when her work took her Kazakhstan, she found yet another  personal connection to the Soviet nuclear program.

Magda's View From Here

  You can listen to our full interview with Maga here.

After the interview aired, a listener wrote to say "I wondered why your interview subject didn't tell us what the level of radiation the population you appeared to be so concerned about was subject to. After all, she had a way of measuring it."

It's true that Magda had a Geiger counter, but says she brought it as an alarm, not to measure and record readings as this is not her field of expertise. As a medical anthropologist, she says she was there "to study human health and disease in a specific economic and political context."   




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