Photography

Cuba’s Abandoned Nuclear City Is a 90s Time Capsule

Some people still live in a city next to a disused power plant, built before the collapse of the Soviet Union. This is what it looks like today.

by Yuri Segalerba
09 October 2019, 11:02am

All photos: Yuri Segalerba

In 1976, Cuba and the USSR signed an agreement to build several nuclear power plants in the town of Juraguá in the Cienfuegos province of southern Cuba, around 230km southeast of Havana. The construction of the first reactor started in 1982, and was supervised by President Castro's eldest son, Fidel Castro Díaz Balart. The plan also included building a new town – modelled on Pripyat, the city built next to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The Ciudad Nuclear (Nuclear City), also built in 1982, was designed to house thousands of workers – some of whom even visited the Soviet Union to study nuclear physics and learn Russian. The 30,000 residents who moved in hoped to become part of what was then dubbed by both governments as "the project of the century".

But months after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, construction of the power plant was officially abandoned. Since then, the population of Ciudad Nuclear has dropped to around 7,000 – and the area stands as a semi-abandoned city suspended in time, defined by Soviet buildings lining the Cuban coast.

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I first visited the Ciudad Nuclear in 2013, and shot photos of the plant to capture and better understand what was left of the project. Five years later, in 2018, I returned to report on the city and its inhabitants, many of whom remember the time of construction fondly, as one of economic growth. Life was good, they told me. But, understandably, most of them now feel resentment at what's happened since – the way they were attracted by a grand vision that never came true.

During my second visit I realised that, although the village has remained more or less the same, things around the power plant have changed. A wall was built around the unfinished reactor, protected by guards in uniform looking down from a series of small watchtowers. I tried to ask them if I could come in, but I had no chance: they wouldn’t budge. No one enters the power plant anymore. Here's more of what I was able to see.

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