On August 29, 2016, the Republic of Kazakhstan would celebrate 25 years since the accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has defined the country`s anti-nuclear policy since getting its independence in 1991. The treaty acknowledges the right of every state to use and develop nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes.
For more than 40 years, the Northeastern (Semipalatinsk) region of Kazakhstan was the primary testing venue for more than 456 nuclear blasts conducted by the Soviet Government. Capturing the area of 19,000 km2, the nuclear testing site negatively affects not only regional environment but also local population’s health.
Figure 1. Map of Semipalatinsk Nuclear Testing Site
During the period from 1949 to 1963, the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Testing Site has conducted 116 nuclear above ground tests that created large radioactive clouds. However, with acceptation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the Government of Soviet Union, under the Soviet atomic bomb project had to change its policy. In order to avoid the consequences of violation of the Treaty, Moscow had decided to carry out underground tests, the total amount of which was 340 nuclear blasts. It is claimed that 13 out of these underground explosions resulted in release of hazardous radioactive vapors to the atmosphere. (“The Semipalatinsk Test Site, Kazakhstan,” IAEA, 2013)
It caused an increase in the level of the reactive pollution in the region. According to UN statistical analysis, since 1949, about 1.5 million people were exposed to hazardous radiation at the Semipalatinsk region. (International Business Times, Erlan Idrissov, 2015) In this context, preservation of the public health and avoidance of environment challenges have become the main features of Kazakhstan`s National policy.
The starting point of the process leading to the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Site takes it roots back in 1989 with the initiative of the head of the Kazakh Writers’ Union, Olzhas Suleimenov, and thousands of his supporters across the state. The first major anti-nuclear movement in Kazakhstan under the supervision of Olzhas Suleimenov aimed to fight against nuclear threats, which had a huge impact of radiation on millions of human lives in the surrounding area, has been formed. Witnessing the same consequences of the nuclear tests, supporters of the closure of the Nevada Nuclear Testing Site in the United States have come together with the Kazakh people in order to establish the “Nevada Semipalatinsk” anti-nuclear movement and put it on the global anti-nuclear arena. The moto of the movement was protection of human rights and rising awareness of the problems of ecology on the national and international levels.
Having been active for 3 years, the movement could have reached its ultimate goal of the closure of the Semipalatinsk facility and abolition of nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan. As reported by UNESCO, the “Nevada Semipalatinsk” anti-nuclear movement played a prominent role in promoting global dialogue and public understanding of “the need to fight against rising nuclear threats”. (Director-General of UNESCO; “The XXIst Century: Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, 2001) Therefore, Kazakhstan`s civil society was the one of the main determinants that took the core actions in closing of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Testing Site.
On December 1990, the Parliament of Kazakhstan has passed a bill prohibiting any kinds of nuclear weapons testing within the territory of the Republic. Prior to acquiring independence in December 1991, the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, signed the Decree on the closure of the Semipalatinsk Testing Site on August 29, 1991. (The Atlantic, 2013)
Today, it can be claimed that Kazakhstan has a special contribution in global nuclear disarmament initiative and Nuclear-Weapons-Free World Concept. On December 7, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a Universal Declaration for the Attainment of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World, proposed by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev by 2045. This notion was firstly discussed on the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. in April 2010 and later reintroduced at the 70th session of the United Nation in New York in September 2015. Moreover, 35 states representing different continents have performed as co-authors of the universal declaration. The document captures the major goals of global elimination of nuclear weapon, peace and security formation and the redirection of investment inflows dedicated to the development of nuclear weapons worldwide. The main agenda is to diminish the role of Nuclear Weapons in formation of security strategies.
This initiative of an active participation in global nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control is very crucial to Kazakh People and Kazakh Government, as for four decades the Nation had suffered from the hazardous consequences of nuclear tests.
It was not the first initiative of the Republic of Kazakhstan proposed to the UN in the last decade regarding global nuclear disarmament. In 2009, during the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly through the resolution of 64/35, the UN declared 29 August as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. The resolution was originated by the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with a number of supporters sharing the same discourse of the world free of nuclear tests. (United Nations)
The actions of UN on adopting a Universal Declaration for the Attainment of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World have a meaningful moral weight and produce political implications. With the 113 countries voting for ratification of the declaration, Kazakhstan considers it as a diplomatic victory. In addition, at the meeting with the heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Astana, the President of Kazakhstan called for declaring XXI century, as the century of the world without nuclear weapons. (Kazinform)
Kazakhstan has represented that security rests on renouncement of nuclear arsenals. Since the nuclear threat has a global nature, through the butterfly effect the usage of nuclear weapons may affect the world security. At this point, the major unrest regarding the UN nuclear disarmament policy is to provide efficiency of the Nuclear-Weapons-Free World Concept initiated by Kazakhstan. Therefore, there is an essential need for the world community to support anti-nuclear initiative and intensify its policies in spreading the idea of the world free of nuclear weapons, especially, within the rising threat of extremism and terrorism coming from countries and organizations such as North Korea and DAESH.
To conclude, at the 71st session of United Nations General Assembly that is to be held in October 2016, the Republic of Kazakhstan seeks to be elected as one of five non-permanent members to the UN Security Council (UNSC) for 2017-2018. With the acceptation to the UN Security Council Kazakhstan could become even more effective player in promoting the idea of the world free of the nuclear weapons.
Akorda: Topical issues of peace, security and global economy, Kazinform 2016
“Kazakhstan’s Painful Nuclear Past Looms Large Over Its Energy Future”, The Atlantic, JILLIAN KEENAN, 2013
“The Semipalatinsk Test Site, Kazakhstan”, IAEA, 2013
United Nations, International Day Against Nuclear Tests
UNITED NATIONS EDUCATIONAL, SCIENTIFIC AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATION, “The XXIst Century: Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons”, 2001
“Want a world without the threat of nuclear weapons? We must ban nuclear testing”, International Business Times, Erlan Idrissov, 2015
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy
Akbota Akylbayeva was a research fellow in the Eurasian Research Institute at H.A.Yassawi Kazakh Turkish International University. Graduating from Pavlodar Kazakh-Turkish High School in 2009, she admitted to Middle East Technical University at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration (Turkey, Ankara). In 2015 she earned her Master degree in MBA from Fatih University, Istanbul with completing her thesis on “Human Resource Management in Koton Company”. She is a bronze medal winner at the 16th International Environmental Project Olympiad in 2008 (Istanbul, Turkey) and also re