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Campaign to End Nuclear Tests: Kazakhstan Launches ATOM E

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 12 2015 (IPS) – Despite United Nations General Assembly resolutions since 1946, calling for an end to lethal arsenal, the possession of nuclear weapons has continued to be a symbol of scientific sophistication or military power, until 29 August 1991, when Kazakhstan, upon gaining independence, closed its Nuclear Test Site in Semipalatinsk – the second largest in the world.

This action and the renunciation of our nuclear arsenal – the fourth largest in the world, were unprecedented acts to demonstrate to the world that Kazakhstan does not need these powerful nuclear weapons tests and weapons. The closure of Semipalatinsk led the way for the closure of other sites in Nevada, Novaya Zemlya, Lop Nur, Moruroa, Kiribati and others.

The detonation of over 600 warheads, one fourth of all 2000 nuclear tests globally, were conducted in a span of four decades on the territory of the Semipalatinsk test site covering a total area is 18.000 sq. km, affecting over 1.5 million people and a land mass of 300,000 sq. km.

In fact, the entire territory of Kazakhstan, was one big polygon, comprising of 11 units spread over the country. Besides nuclear, these included also air, space, missile defence and warning systems, as well as high-powered laser weapons test sites. Among these I would also like to mention the deadly biochemical and bacteriological weapons tested in the Aral Sea (which was the Barkhan Test Site on the former Renaissance Island).

Considering the actions taken by my country, Kazakhstan thus has the full right to call for the universal and prompt measures on the Path to Zero. This frightening data cited here and the 1996 Advisory of the International Court of Justice should spur the global community to act more decisively for the ultimate and irrevocable prohibition of nuclear tests and weapons.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has launched a worldwide e-campaign, an international project, called ATOM (Abolish Testing. Our Mission), calling on world leaders to end nuclear tests, once and for all. To draw attention to the campaign, Karpek Kuyukov, the Goodwill Ambassador of the ATOM project, himself a victim of nuclear radiation, has travelled from Kazakhstan and is here in New York to share his life experiences with us.

Despite being the largest producer and supplier of uranium in the world, Kazakshtan’s firm position demonstrates that harmony and cooperation can be stronger armaments for global peace and security than any weaponry.

Disarmament critics still insist that nuclear weapons cannot be dis-invented and that the nuclear genie is well out of the bottle. Kazakhstan and several other countries have proven that it is within our power to put this monstrous genie back into the bottle.

Kazakhstan was amongst the first countries to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). My country is committed to the Treaty, and along with Japan will co-chair the International Conference on Article XIV to CTBT on 29 September 2015, to work intensely to bring its entry into force.

This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations and the start of a transformative Post-2015 development agenda. We must thus have the political will to invest vast resources that would be available as a result of nuclear disarmament to meet compelling human needs and achieve a peaceful and secure world.

Today, a new impetus is needed to move the disarmament machinery forward, considering that the 2015 review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) did not fulfil its anticipated outcome. We commend the three meetings held in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna, and the many unilateral, bilateral and collective efforts of several countries, together with the dynamic efforts of civil society.

These actions serve as a wake-up call to unite for a nuclear-weapon-free world. We, therefore, welcome the momentum gained by the Humanitarian Pledge put forward by Austria, which Kazakhstan endorsed on 10 July 2015. Likewise, we seek support at the forthcoming First Committee Meeting in October this year for the initiative of our President calling on the international community to adopt the Universal Declaration on the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World. We do not consider this document as the basis for a major debate or tying down the United Nations disarmament machinery. Its value lies in the fact that, despite ongoing disagreements on the means to achieve nuclear disarmament, there is full agreement on the fundamental goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

I would like to point to other examples of successful cooperation between the East and West with the participation of Kazakhstan:

1. When our country became the “epicentre of the world” after renouncing its nuclear arsenal, it was the collaboration with the Russian Federation and the U.S. that made possible the removal and disposal of our nuclear warheads and missiles, as well as the destruction and decommissioning the infrastructure of the former test site.

2. Kazakhstan, along with other countries of the region, established the Central Asian Nulear-Free-Zone with the signing of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk in 2006, which speedily came into force in 2009. In May 2014, representatives of the “nuclear five” (the P5) signed a Protocol on negative security assurances to the participant states of that Treaty, of which four have already ratified it.

This year, the Central Asian states adopted an Action Plan to strengthen nuclear security in the region. Now we are elaborating regional instruments for the prevention of illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and combating nuclear terrorism.

3. In 2014, we worked to ensure the safety and preservation of hundreds of kilograms of nuclear material, remaining in the galleries at the Massif Degelen, also known as Plutonium Mountain, located at the former Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. This measure will prevent leakage and improper use of these materials. The constant and perennial trilateral cooperation between Kazakhstan, Russia and the U.S., was announced in Seoul in 2012 by the Presidents of the three countries. It is a striking proof that only a spirit of trust and mutual understanding will make our world secure. Today Kazakhstan is actively preparing for the Fourth Summit to be held in Washington D.C., in 2016 and will host a preparatory Sherpas Meeting in Almaty from 2-4 November 2015.

4. Another significant achievement has been the Agreement signed on 27 August 2015 by the Government of Kazakhstan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for establishing the International Bank of Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) in 2017 in Eastern Kazakhstan. This initiative is yet another concrete contribution of Kazakhstan in strengthening the non-proliferation regime, and eliminating lacunae existing in the international legal framework. The Bank will allow Member States the right to reliable access to fuel for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It was again the collaboration between the East and West, particularly, Kazakhstan, the P5, as well as the European Union, Norway, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates -as the main donors of the project – that the Bank became a reality.

5. A most recent example of cooperation is related to the unique Cosmodrome Baikonur located in Kazakhstan – the only site in the world from where space crafts are launched to the International Space Station. On 2 September 2015, the spacecraft “Soyuz” was launched with a new crew, comprising of Kazakh, Russian and Danish cosmonauts, the latter from the European Space Agency. This, once again should inspire us to work together with hope for the future.

I would like to quote President Nazarbayev, who at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague reminded the world that “general and complete nuclear disarmament” is the only guarantee of nuclear security. He said that we should all live up to our responsibilities to our citizens and the global community to deliver political rather than military solutions in the name of international peace. It is therefore the collective responsibility and commitment of everyone, to increase the momentum for anti-tests and anti-nuclear weapons and to find and implement such peaceful solutions so that we do not forget our common humanity.

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.