Military arsenal near the village Tokrau was the largest ammunition storage of the Ministry of Defense of Kazakhstan. The concrete vaults of the military unit No. 89533 contained more than ten thousand tons of weapons – shells, ammunition, mortars, rockets. Among other equipment, there were also uranium armor-piercing shells.
Ammunition has been stored in Tokrau by the Soviet army during the war in Afghanistan, and more weapons were relocated there in 1988 from Armenia after Spitak earthquake. All the stocks were destined for safe destruction.
On August 8, 2001 the fire broke out on the territory of the arsenal warehouse, and soon turned into continuous explosions of ammunition. Because of these explosions, the fire brigades were not able to start extinguishing the fire for several days. In order to avoid human casualties of Tokrau population, the settlement was quickly evacuated, and safety zone was established within 10 kilometers radius.
Fire and explosions did not stop for the whole week. It completely destroyed a five-story building and the soldiers' barracks, damaged railway, power lines, and the only water tower in the district. The accident caused volley emissions of significant quantities of chemical and radioactive substances into the environment.
The exact reason of the fire in Tokrau was never revealed, although many versions of the story are being told.
Since the fire until 2009, the Ministry of Defense and the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan were carrying out demining and cleaning the area from explosive and radioactive materials.
After the fire, the source of increased radioactivity was detected in two buildings of arsenal. In 2006, it was decided to carry out disposal and conservation works, including collection of radioactive waste. As a result, risk of spreading radioactive contamination was considerably reduced. Radioactive waste was relocated to the reactor complex "Baikal" at the territory of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site for the long-term storage.
Although more than ten years left from the fire, the public still does not have any information on the state of the environment of Arsenal Tokrau and its surroundings. According to experts, fire and explosions could create hazardous chlorinated persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that stay in the environment, harm the health of humans and animals and cause toxic poisoning of wide spectrum. Due to the fact that Arsenal Tokrau is located above the area of groundwater reservoir and existing underground water stream of river Tokrau, former fire and explosions could threat not only residents of the nearby village of Orta Deresin (about 1 000 people), but also the entire population of Balkhash city (about 100 000 people.).