Mailuu-Suu was secretly built by the Soviets in the 1950s and is a small mining town in the Jalal-Abad region of Southern Kyrgyzstan and one of the most polluted places on Earth as the world’s largest radioactive waste storage facilities are located near the city. The uranium obtained there, from the surrounding mountains between 1946 and 1968, was reportedly used to create the first atomic bomb for the Soviet nuclear program. However poorly managed, the mines also caused environmental devastation. As a result, the residents still gain various diseases related to the radioactivity and there are reports that officials are doing little to protect them from the health hazards.
In 1958, a dam collapse causing nuclear waste to fall into the area’s water system. Even when operations were running smoothly, nuclear waste was often quickly disposed just next to the town. Today, the mines are abandoned and multiple waste sights are poorly secured, exposing residents to the looming threats. Furthermore, these sites have contaminated the Mailuu-Suu river, a major tributary of the Syr Darya that flows through Kyrgyzstan and into Uzbekistan, carrying radioactive waste into the densely populated Ferghana Valley. The fact that the region is very prone to land slides, adds to the threat even more.
Mailuu-Suu is also known as Maili-Sai and is located 100 kilometers from the regional center Jalal-Abad and 550 kilometers from the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. The town is located in a beautiful mountainous area, in the floodplain of the Mailuu-Suu river at an altitude of 800-900 meters above sea level. According to the latest population report, there were about 21900 people living in 2017. The name “Mailuu-Suu” translates as “oil-water”, and “Maili-Sai” means “oil gorge” or “oil tract” which is due to the fact that oil has been produced here already since 1901. Mailuu Suu is one of the several locations for dark tourism in Central Asia.