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Central Test Site of Russia on Novaya Zemlya

  • Location
    Novaya Zemlya District, Arkhangelsk Oblast
  • Type
  • Facility Status

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Novaya Zemlya is an archipelago situated in the Arctic Ocean consisting of a northern and southern island separated by the Matochkin Shar strait. The Soviet Union authorized construction of “Object-700,” at Novaya Zemlya on 31 July 1954. When the Soviet Navy completed construction a year later, Object-700 became the second nuclear test site in the USSR. On 21 September 1955, the first nuclear test, an underwater explosion, was conducted on Novaya Zemlya. 1 Between 1955 and 1990, the site was used for approximately 130 tests, including the October 1961 detonation of the largest nuclear weapon ever tested, the 50MT AN602 Tsar Bomba hydrogen bomb. 2

Nuclear tests were carried out at three different areas on Novaya Zemlya. Between 1955 and 1962, low- and medium-yield atmospheric explosions, underwater, and surface nuclear tests were staged at Zone A in the Chernaya Gulf region. After 1963, six underground tests were also staged in Zone A. From 1964 through 1990, nuclear tests were conducted in deep underground shafts in Zone B on the Gulf of Matochkin Shar’s southern bank. 3 Between 1957 and 1962, atmospheric tests were also conducted in Zone C, located on Sukhoy Nos Peninsula, north of Matochkin Shar Strait. 4

The Soviet Union carried out its last series of tests on 24 October 1990 and pledged to uphold a moratorium. Russia extended this moratorium prior to its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 2000. 5 At present, Russia conducts hydrodynamic tests at the site located on the Gulf of Matochkin Shar. Scientists use these tests to examine the fissile materials in stockpiled nuclear warheads and study the service life, reliability, and safety of the warheads. 6 While the 12th Main Directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defense formally supervises the base at Belushya Guba and supports the test site, Rosatom’s division of nuclear munitions development, testing and defense power facilities supervises the so-called Expedition N2 (ФГУП “Экспедиция №2”), a mining enterprise at the test site itself.

The Belushya Guba settlement, located on the archipelago’s southern island, is the administrative center of the Novaya Zemlya District, and the headquarters for a military base associated with the test site. Over 2,000 people, nearly all of them military personnel and their families, reside in the settlement. Access to the area, which is served by one military airport, is highly restricted. Reports suggest that the base and its associated facilities have been undergoing renovations after decades of low funding. 7


  1. Nikolai Biriukov, “Архипелаг особого назначения” An Archipelago with a Special Purpose, Vozdushno-Kosmicheskaya Oborona, December 2010, www.vko.ru.
  2. Vitaly I. Khalturin, Tatyana G. Rautian, Paul G. Richards, and William S. Leith, “A Review of Nuclear Testing by the Soviet Union at Novaya Zemlya, 1955—1990,” Science and Global Security, 13/2005, pp. 1-42; Pavel Podvig and Oleg Bukharin. Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces. (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2001).
  3. Yadernyye ispytaniya SSSR. Novozemelskiy poligon: obespecheniye obshchey i radiatsionnoy bezopasnosti yadernykh ispytaniy USSR’s Nuclear Tests. The Novaya Zemlya Test Site: Provision of General and Radiation Safety of Nuclear Tests (Moscow: IzdAT, 2000), pp. 75.-78.
  4. V.N. Mikhailov, editor, Ядерные испытания в Арктике Nuclear Testing in the Arctic (Moscow: ISS, 2004), www.iss-atom.ru.
  5. Victor Slipchenko, “Russia, Ratification and the CTBT Entry into Force,” VERTIC Occasional Paper, June 2010, www.vertic.org.
  6. Dmitriy Litovkin, “Военные программы Минатома стали безопастными” Minatom’s Military Programs Have Become Safe Krasnaya zvezda, 21 August 1999, p. 4.
  7. “Губернатор Илья Михальчук встретился с новым начальником полигона Новая Земля” Governor Ilya Mikhalchuk Met with New Head of Novaya Zemlya Test Site, Press Center of the Governor and Government of Arkhangelsk Region, 14 September 2011, www.dvinaland.ru.


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