Kazakhstan Leads Battle to Ban Nuclear Testing


Nuclear Abolition News | IPS
By Megan Iacobini de Fazio

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - The first International Day against Nuclear Testing will be marked on August 29 by festivities in Astana, Kazakhstan and major cities around the world, with the goal of raising awareness of the importance of banning nuclear tests and to educate people on the catastrophic effects past tests have had on human beings and the environment.

There will also be a session of the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 9 dedicated to the subject of nonproliferation and a definitive ban on nuclear testing.

The International day against Nuclear Testing was declared during the 64th session of the U.N General Assembly, through the unanimous adoption of resolution 64/35 on Dec. 2, 2009.

Israil Tilegen, counsellor of the Kazakhstan Mission to the U.N., told IPS that "the day is both a remembrance day and a day to urge countries to give up their nuclear arsenal".

The event coincides with the anniversary of the first Soviet nuclear test blast in Kazakhstan on Aug. 29, 1949, and with the closure of the Semipalatinsk test site on the same date in 1991.

That year the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, issued a decree permanently closing the world's second largest nuclear test site, and later voluntarily renounced the country's nuclear arsenal, which at the time was the world's fourth largest.

The Soviet Union carried out a total of 456 nuclear tests in the eastern region of Kazakhstan until 1989, but the full impact and damage of radiation to people and to the environment was not exposed by the Soviet Union until the test site was closed two years later.

The long term effects of these tests are still subject of research and discussion, although there have been studies which suggest that the consequences on the population and surrounding land are still evident.

The only on site inhabitants at the time were mainly Soviet employees whose job it was to service Semipalatinsk. They were concentrated around the towns of Kurchatov, Akzhar and Moldari and the total population was of around 40,000.

However, it is estimated that up to 1.5 million people were exposed to considerable amounts of radiation, mainly because of unsuccessful tests which resulted in the dispersion of plutonium in the environment.

Five tests carried out on the surface of the earth and in the atmosphere and 13 conducted underground exploded at the wrong time and caused the release of radioactive gases into the atmosphere. The affected area is said to be roughly the size of Germany.

"Forty years on there is still a high incidence of cancer and children born with genetic disorders," Tilegen said.

Kazakhstan has always been a prominent and active party in the process of reducing the global nuclear threat through nonproliferation and disarmament and is a supporter of a timely entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

"The International Day Against Nuclear Testing is a first step towards a world free of nuclear weapons," Tilegen claims.

Addressing an international conference held in Astana on Thursday Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reiterated his hope that the CTBT be enforced by 2012.

In his address, which was read out during the conference, Ban stressed the importance of the treaty as an instrument in the cause of nonproliferation and disarmament.

He also welcomed the initiative promoted by Kazakhstan to organise a conference on the political aspects of banning nuclear tests and the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Tibor Toth, head of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, labeled the day as "a time to act and not to wait".

He added that the declaration of Aug. 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests "is an acknowledgment of the need to halt nuclear testing once and for all".

The Treaty has been ratified by 153 nations but must still be approved by a group of 44 "Annex 2" states.

There are also nine holdouts which include Iran, North Korea, China, Indonesia and the United States.

The Obama administration has however expressed support for the entry into force of the treaty and is expected to act soon.

"Now is the time for the nine states whose ratification of the CTBT will bring it into force to show the political will and fully endorse it" Toth said.

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