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The city is best known for its World-class Nukus Museum of Art. Nukus developed from a small settlement in 1932 into a large, modern Soviet city with broad avenues and big public buildings by the 1950s. The city's isolation made it host to the Red Army's Chemical Research Institute, a major research and testing center for chemical warfare weapons. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the growing environmental disaster of the Aral Sea, the city's situation has deteriorated. Contamination of the surrounding area by wind-borne salt and pesticides from the dry Aral Sea bed have turned the surrounding area into a wasteland, with very high rates of respiratory disorders, cancer, birth defects and deformities.
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