Vozrozhdeniya Island

March 21, 2008

in Bombs and rockets, Security, The environment

Fire escape

One disturbing consequence of the shrinking Aral Sea is that Vozrozhdeniya Island is now connected to the mainland. Between 1948 and 1991, the island was home to a secret Soviet biological weapons testing ground. Weaponized agents tested include anthrax, tularemia, brucellosis, the black plague, typhus, smallpox, and botulism. Animals on whom tests were conducted include horses, monkeys, sheep, donkeys, and rats.

The Aral Sea has essentially vanished because the Amu and Syr Rivers were redirected by the USSR to irrigate rice and cotton fields. Hopefully, the new connection between the disease island and the Kazakh and Uzbek coasts will not permit organisms to escape on rats or fleas, or criminal or terrorist groups to gain access to infectious materials.

In 2002, a team from the American Defense Threat Reduction Agency eliminated between 100 and 200 tonnes of anthrax, over a three month period.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan March 19, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Related items:

Biological Decontamination of Vozrozhdeniye Island: The U.S.-Uzbek Agreement

Welcome to anthrax island

In central Asia, Nick Middleton sees the deadly legacy of the Soviet biological weapons programme

The Guardian,
Thursday April 21 2005

Emily Horn March 21, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Tonnes! D:

Milan March 21, 2008 at 8:48 pm

You don’t measure your personal supply of weaponized anthrax in metric tonnes?

R.K. March 21, 2008 at 8:59 pm

I like this photo. The yellow pipe is a subtle but important feature.

Milan March 21, 2008 at 11:28 pm
Alejandra Gonzalez August 18, 2009 at 12:05 am

Es increible como alguien puede pensar en construir armas biologicas a base de antrax, una sola mutacion de alguno de los infectados puede ser suficiente para acabar con la raza humana.

. August 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Perhaps the largest attempt by a nonstate actor to cause mass casualties using anthrax was the series of attacks conducted in 1993 by the Japanese cult group Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo.

In the late 1980s, Aum’s team of trained scientists spent millions of dollars to develop a series of state-of-the-art biological weapons research and production laboratories. The group experimented with botulinum toxin, anthrax, cholera and Q fever and even tried to acquire the Ebola virus. The group hoped to produce enough biological agent to trigger a global Armageddon. Its first attempts at unleashing mega-death on the world involved the use of botulinum toxin. In April 1990, the group used a fleet of three trucks equipped with aerosol sprayers to release liquid botulinum toxin on targets that included the Imperial Palace, the National Diet of Japan, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, two U.S. naval bases and the airport in Narita. In spite of the massive quantities of toxin released, there were no mass casualties, and, in fact, nobody outside of the cult was even aware the attacks had taken place.

When the botulinum operations failed to produce results, Aum’s scientists went back to the drawing board and retooled their biological weapons facilities to produce anthrax. By mid-1993, they were ready to launch attacks involving anthrax; between June and August of 1993, the group sprayed thousands of gallons of aerosolized liquid anthrax in Tokyo. This time, Aum not only employed its fleet of sprayer trucks but also used aerosol sprayers mounted on the roof of their headquarters to disperse a cloud of aerosolized anthrax over the city. Again, the attacks produced no results and were not even noticed. It was only after the group’s successful 1995 subway attacks using sarin nerve agent that a Japanese government investigation discovered that the 1990 and 1993 biological attacks had occurred.

. May 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm

“Most people today have no immunity to smallpox. The vaccine begins to wear off in many people after ten years. Mass vaccination for smallpox came to a worldwide halt around twenty-five years ago. There is now very little smallpox vaccine on hand in the United States or anywhere else in the world. The World Health Organization once had ten million doses of the vaccine in storage in Geneva, Switzerland, but in 1990 an advisory committee recommended that most of it be destroyed, feeling that smallpox was longer a threat. Nine and a half million doses are assumed to have been cooked in an oven, leaving the W.H.O. with a total supply of half a million doses — one dose of smallpox vaccine for every twelve thousand people on earth. A recent survey by the W.H.O. revealed that there is only one factory in the world that has recently made even a small quantity of the vaccine, and there may be no factory capable of making sizable amounts. The vaccine was discovered in the age of Thomas Jefferson, and making a lot of it would seem simple, but so far the United States government has been unable to get any made at all. Variola virus is now classified as a Biosafety Level 4 hot agent — the most dangerous kind of virus — because it is lethal, airborne, and highly contagious, and is now exotic to the human species, and there is not enough vaccine to stop an outbreak. Experts feel that the appearance of a single case of smallpox anywhere on earth would be a global medical emergency.

At the present time, smallpox lives officially in only two repositories on the planet. One repository is in the United States, in a freezer at the headquarters of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta — the C.D.C. The other official smallpox repository is in a freezer at a Russian virology institute called Vector, also known as the State Research Institute of Virology and Biotechnology, which is situated outside the city of Novosibirsk, in Siberia. Vector is a huge, financially troubled former virus-weapons-development facility — a kind of decayed Los Alamos of viruses — which is trying to convert to peaceful enterprises.

There is a growing suspicion among experts that the smallpox virus may also live unofficially in clandestine biowarfare laboratories in a number of countries around the world, including labs on military bases in Russia that are closed to outside observers. The Central Intelligence Agency has become deeply alarmed about smallpox. Since 1995, a number of leading American biologists and public-health doctors have been given classified national-security briefings on smallpox. They have been shown classified evidence that as recently as 1992 Russia had the apparent capability of launching strategic-weapons-grade smallpox in special biological warheads on giant SS-18 intercontinental missiles that were targeted on the major cities of the United States. In the summer of last year, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan in a test, and the missile fell into the sea. Some knowledgeable observers thought that the missile could have been designed to carry a biologic warhead. If it had carried smallpox and landed in Japan, it could have devastated Japan’s population: Japan has almost no smallpox vaccine on hand and its government seems to have no ability to deal with a biological attack. The United States government keeps a list of nations and groups that it suspects either have clandestine stocks of smallpox or seem to be trying to buy or steal the virus. The list is classified, but it is said to include Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Cuba, and Serbia. The list may also include the terrorist organization of Osama bin Laden and, possibly, the Aum Shinrikyo sect of Japan — a quasi-religious group that had Ph.D. biologists as members and a belief that an apocalyptic war will bring them worldwide power. Aum members released nerve gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995, and, as the year 2000 approaches, the group is still active in Japan and in Russia. In any case, the idea that smallpox lives in only two freezers was never anything more than a comfortable fiction. No one knows exactly who has smallpox today, or where they keep the virus, or what they intend to do with it.”

. December 23, 2013 at 3:55 pm

So fast are the Dead Sea’s briny waters shrinking that it has already shed its southern half. Much of the seabed is now as crusty as the pillar of salt that Lot’s wife turned into after fleeing Gomorrah. Hotels built on the shores in the 1980s have a cliff-top view today. Arthritic pensioners keen on the sea’s therapeutic powers are reduced to swimming in saline hotel pools. By 2050, say Friends of the Earth, a conservation group, the sea will be little more than a pond the size of two football fields.

After years of regional squabbling, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian ministers signed a deal on December 9th to slow desiccation. Backed by the World Bank, they plan to build a desalination plant on the Red Sea and pipe the run-off 180km (112 miles) north to the Dead Sea.

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