US, Kazakhstan hold joint training on nuclear-material smuggling

By Aydar Ashimov


Participants take part in a training course last November in Almaty on maintaining physical protection systems for nuclear materials. [Kazakh Institute of Nuclear Physics]

ASTANA -- The US Department of Defence is working with the Kazakh government to train security forces on combatting the smuggling of nuclear and radioactive materials that could be used in a terror attack.

The US Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) trained members of the Kazakh National Guard on January 21-25 in Astana as part of the DTRA's Global Nuclear Security programme, the Kazakh Energy Ministry Institute of Nuclear Physics, which hosted the gathering, said on its website.

The training was called the Nuclear Security Events Response Course.

The goal of the course is to train security forces in how to respond to incidents and accidents, and to develop skills and tactics that would be used during such events at nuclear facilities, the institute said.


A US delegation led by the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Joseph L. Votel, takes a photo last May 14 in Astana during a working trip focused on the security and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. [US Embassy in Kazakhstan]


Specialists from the Kazakh Institute of Nuclear Physics and representatives of the US National Nuclear Security Administration participate in a working meeting in Almaty last November 12. [Kazakh Institute of Nuclear Physics]

As part of the training course, "US instructors provided the theoretical and practical exercises for the representatives of the military units of the National Guard of Kazakhstan", it added.

Long-running co-operation

Last November in Almaty, a meeting between specialists of the Institute of Nuclear Physics and representatives of the National Nuclear Security Administration of the US Department of Energy took place.

Participants discussed the possibility of conducting joint exercises to counter nuclear smuggling, as well as the development of nuclear forensics in Kazakhstan, the institute said.

"Co-operation between our countries in nuclear security has been ongoing for a long time," Yevgeny Kryuchkov, a political scientist in Uralsk, told Caravanserai.

"In 2006, an agreement of intent was signed between the United States and Kazakhstan to improve our country's capacity to combat nuclear smuggling. Over the years, a lot has been done in terms of training Kazakh experts, swapping experience and providing technical support," he said.

Efforts to combat nuclear smuggling "are aimed at the timely detection and prevention of cross-border transport, and timely and adequate response to such situations," he added.

"Our countries have an incentive to pursue this co-operation," he said. "It's in our shared interest not to let criminals acquire nuclear and radioactive materials that can be used to commit terrorist acts, among other things."

Soviet nuclear-test site

Kazakhstan has dealt with nuclear and radioactive threats, as well as the consequences of nuclear tests since 1949, when the Soviet government built the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in the northeastern part of the country.

Deputies of parliament's lower chamber and civic leaders from Semey (the present-day name for Semipalatinsk) held a discussion in Astana at the end of January over the consequences of decades of Semipalatinsk nuclear testing on local inhabitants, according to the newspaper Kursiv.

Local residents recalled the fear of living near the test facility, which closed in 1989. Almost 460 nuclear explosions took place there in 40 years.

"During a routine explosion, local residents felt tremors and children were frightened," Bekzat Kusainov, a resident of the area, told Caravanserai.

After the country gained independence, Kazakhstan voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons and now advocates nuclear security. Still, the Soviet government's actions at the test site left a lasting impact, said Kusainov.

"I consider the Soviet authorities' attitude toward the local population of Semipalatinsk Province to be irresponsible," Kusainov said. "People fell ill and didn't even know they were absorbing radiation."

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