Caravanserai
Security

Kazakhstan appeals to global community for greater nuclear security

By Aydar Ashimov

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Equipment housings are seen at the nuclear explosion site P-1, in Semipalatinsk, some 50km from Kurchatov on August 22, 2011. A total of 456 nuclear tests were conducted at the test site over 42 years. [AFP PHOTO/ VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO]

NUR-SULTAN -- Kazakhs who personally experienced the high cost of the misuse of nuclear energy are urging greater international nuclear security.

In Kazakhstan, where "1.5 million people suffered from the consequences of nuclear tests in Semipalatinsk [Semey] and its surrounding areas during the Soviet period", residents know the impact of the issue.

The Soviet regime conducted about 500 nuclear explosions at Semipalatinsk from 1949 to 1989, irreparably harming the health of the local population.

Building a secure world

A recent online meeting initiated by Nur-Sultan is one more step toward building a secure world, officials and analysts say.

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Participants in the November 30 online conference on international security and on renewal of a global nuclear dialogue are shown. [Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation]

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Personnel from the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and Kazakh National Nuclear Centre walk from tunnel closure areas on Degelen Mountain at the Semipalatinsk test site September 23. [DTRA] 

The Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation and the Institute of World Economics and Politics in Nur-Sultan on November 30 organised an international online conference on international security and on renewal of a global nuclear dialogue.

The goal of the event was to promote the creation of the Global Alliance of Leaders for a Nuclear-Free World, according to a joint statement issued by the organisers.

"We ... call for joint efforts to make our voice louder by inviting experienced and influential world leaders to join our common cause," the statement said.

The analysts who signed the document call for "the beginning of direct negotiations on nuclear security, non-proliferation and disarmament among all permanent members of the United Nations [UN] Security Council as soon as possible".

"Only through joint efforts can we build a future world free from the threat of nuclear war," it said.

The main result of the conference was the ratification of an appeal to world leaders to establish the Global Alliance of Leaders and to support its future work.

"The level of the participants and quality of the discussions made this conference one of the noteworthiest international antinuclear events in 2020," according to another statement by the Nursultan Nazarbayev Foundation.

The speakers' roster at the November 30 conference featured global political figures and specialists on foreign policy and nuclear security, including Danilo Türk, president of the Club de Madrid and a former president of Slovenia; former Afghan President Hamid Karzai; former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei; and Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Finnish President Tarja Halonen.

Semipalatinsk site and the Soviet past

During the online meeting, Rupert Goodman, chairman of the British-Kazakh Society, cited the "horrible experience its [the Kazakh] people suffered in connection with nuclear weapons tests".

Kazakhstan and its citizens are especially well-positioned to discuss nuclear security issues since "1.5 million people suffered from the consequences of nuclear tests in Semey [Semipalatinsk] and its surrounding areas during the Soviet period," Yernar Beisaliyev, a political analyst in Nur-Sultan, told Caravanserai.

Kazakhs always will remember the nuclear tests done in Semipalatinsk, during which the "Soviet authorities didn't consider the consequences or the health of the local residents," Dauren Atabayev of East Kazakhstan Province and director of a non-governmental organisation called Beibit Atom (Peaceful Atom), told Caravanserai.

The closure of the Semipalatinsk site in 1991 preceded other measures aimed at nuclear security in the region. These actions included close co-operation with the United States.

In 1993, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was president of Kazakhstan at the time, and then-US Vice President Al Gore signed the so-called Umbrella Agreement to co-operate on reducing the threat of nuclear weapons.

US Ambassador to Kazakhstan William Moser in May visited Semipalatinsk, where he emphasised the continued importance of collaboration to ensure that nuclear materials do not fall into terrorist hands.

A 29-year anti-nuclear campaign

Nazarbayev first proposed forming the Global Alliance of Leaders in 2019.

Kazakhstan's long-term work to ensure nuclear security received recognition at the conference.

"Kazakhstan's proposal to house the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank, which started operating in 2019, was a long-awaited event for the entire global community," ElBaradei, the former IAEA chief, said during the conference on November 30.

Beatrice Fihn, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, highlighted the special role that Kazakhstan played in promoting the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

"Such a high-level gathering again reminds us of the potential threat and of the role that Kazakhstan can play in nuclear security," Atabayev said.

"With pride in our country, I recognise that Kazakhstan has again become the driving force of anti-nuclear initiatives," he added.

"Since it first gained independence 29 years ago, Kazakhstan has been raising the issue of beefing up nuclear security and the peaceful use of atomic energy," said Beisaliyev, the political analyst.

"First Kazakhstan needed to deal with domestic issues, and the tunnels at Semipalatinsk ... were sealed, and then Kazakhstan stood up for the principles of nuclear non-proliferation in forums including the UN Security Council," he said.

Kazakhstan is now making an effort regarding nuclear security not only in its foreign policy but also within the country.

Early this year, in co-operation with the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency, workers built the Anti-Crisis Training Centre in Ust-Kamenogorsk with the aim of protecting Soviet-era nuclear facilities.

Caravanserai earlier this year reported about the construction of a storage facility for spent radioactive materials in Almaty with backing from the US and Canadian governments.

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Well, let's say that not only the Kazakh people but the Russians, Germans, Ukrainians, Chechens, Tatars, etc. lived on this land. Though rejecting nuclear weapons was foolish (but back then everybody wanted Western countries to like them); nowadays, a couple of nuclear warheads would come in handy.

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