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Kazakhstan: Nuclear Weapons Free for 20 Years

Kazakhstan: Nuclear Weapons Free for 20 YearsTwenty years ago today, April 24, 1995, was a momentous day in Kazakhstan’s history. It was the date when the last nuclear warhead was finally removed from our land, eliminating peacefully the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal.

It is an historic step which continues to define our country. Kazakhstan is now recognized globally as a passionate campaigner for peace and nuclear disarmament. It is also a date which continues to be celebrated by our citizens who know all too well the terrible damage that nuclear weapons cause.

Kazakhstan is among the few countries that have suffered most from the human and environmental devastation of nuclear testing. The Semipalatinsk site, in the north of our country, for more than four decades was the scene of more than 450 nuclear explosions in the air, above and under the ground. Many were held when little was known about the long-term impact of radiation with precautions often either non-existent or rudimentary.

But over time, the terrible effects became all too clear. Many thousands of people have died from radiation diseases. Hundreds of children have been born with disabilities.

It is this legacy which led, even before our country fully regained its independence in 1991, to our President Nursultan Nazarbayev closing the Semipalatinsk test site. It was followed within months with the almost unprecedented decision to give up voluntarily the nuclear weapons we inherited on the break-up of the Soviet Union.

But even though the Semipalatinsk test site has now been shut for almost 25 years, there is no escaping its dark shadow. Huge areas of our land are still contaminated. Ill-health and birth defects in the adjacent areas are still far too common.

This history explains the determination of Kazakhstan and its citizens to campaign for a permanent end to nuclear testing and, in the long run, a nuclear weapon-free world. We don’t want another country or its people to suffer such a terrible fate. We will be taking this message to the United Nations when member countries meet next week to take stock of progress on the Non-Proliferation Treaty for Nuclear Weapons.

It is not all bad news. We have seen, for example, the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in Central Asia which has been supported by all the five main nuclear powers. There has been a welcome increase in precautions to stop nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorist and militant groups. It was at our initiation that the United Nations designated 29 August – the day Semipalatinsk was shut – the official International Day against Nuclear Tests.

We have also seen, thanks to the efforts of all countries involved, welcome moves towards a lasting solution on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. All nations, of course, including our neighbor across the Caspian Sea, have the absolute right to develop a civilian nuclear energy program. The challenge is to enable this while preventing any further spread of nuclear weapons.

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What is a nuclear weapon made of?

nuclear chemicals such as plutonium

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