UN General Assembly Commemorates International Day Against Nuclear Tests

NEW YORK – The United Nations General Assembly held a special meeting Sept. 5 to commemorate the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, to remember the victims and survivors of nuclear testing and to use this opportunity to discuss the new steps the UN as an organisation and the member states can take to advance the goal of banning nuclear tests and ultimately building a nuclear weapon free world..

The International Day Against Nuclear Tests, held annually on Aug. 29, highlights the efforts of the UN and a growing community of advocates, including member states, non-governmental organizations, academia, and media, in raising awareness concerning the importance of the nuclear test ban.

The General Assembly chose Aug. 29 as the annual commemoration date since it marks the day in 1991 when Semipalatinsk, one of the largest test sites in the world and located in north-eastern Kazakhstan, was closed permanently by the decree of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Representatives of UN member states took part in the meeting and Kazakhstan’s delegation was led by Vladimir Bozhko, Minister for Emergency Situations

United Nations senior officials during the Sept. 5 General Assembly meeting repeated their call for member states to take action to ban nuclear testing, stressing testings’ horrific effects on human lives and the environment.

“Eighteen years after the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution declaring 29 August as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. This event offers the world community an opportunity to reflect on the dangers posed by such tests and on the urgent need for additional efforts to prohibit them everywhere. This day also provides a moment to recognize the contributions of the government and people of Kazakhstan in seeking to outlaw all such tests and to advance global nuclear disarmament,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his message to the General Assembly on the fourth observance of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

In his turn, Bozhko stressed that observance of the International Day questions the legitimacy of nuclear tests and weapons in military, political and security doctrines.

“It highlights their catastrophic humanitarian consequences on human wellbeing, health, the genetics of survivors, as well as impact on the world’s climate and food production and water supply,” he said, adding that the devastating explosive blasts, direct nuclear radiation, thermal radiation and fall-out make the full rehabilitation of people and environment nearly impossible.

As such, he said that the International Day “is not just a day to remember, but a day to act” and called for a “disarmament race” bolstered by bold multilateral action to not only diminish, but completely wipe out the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

President of the United Nations General Assembly Vuk Jeremic joined the UN Secretary General’s call to member states and encouraged them to participate in the first high-level meeting of the General Assembly on nuclear disarmament, which will take place in New York later this month.

Jeremic recalled the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki noting that “what happened there is a permanent reminder of the horrible, unmatched devastation caused by the use of nuclear weapons. Any test, conducted by anyone anywhere, increases the likelihood they will be used again one day.”

In this regard, it was noted that 456 nuclear atmospheric, surface and underground explosions were carried out from 1949 to 1989 at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. All together, more than 600 nuclear devices were exploded in those tests.

That is nearly one-fourth of all the nuclear weapons tests that have been carried out around the world.

One and half million people and a large environmental area in Kazakhstan were harmed by these tests and contaminated by radiation. That is why the people in Kazakhstan know the cost of nuclear testing and the country, having firsthand knowledge of the impact of nuclear tests and having waived the right to a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons inherited from Soviet Union, uses its the moral authority to call for a world free from nuclear weapons.

Also addressing the meeting was Geoffrey Shaw, representative of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the UN, who highlighted the agency’s key role in verifying the compliance of states with their commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear material under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“By doing so, the IAEA has made an important contribution to global efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said, specifically noting that IAEA safeguards in connection with NPT commitments comprise measures by which the agency independently verifies the correctness and the completeness of the declarations made by states about their nuclear material and activities.

Shaw also noted that the IAEA continues to assist states in characterizing residual radioactivity in areas affected by nuclear weapons tests to assess whether the safe use of such land is possible, or whether remedial actions are needed.

As an example, he said that for many years, the IAEA assisted the Kazakhstan government in assessing the radiological contamination of territories affected by nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk site. And the IAEA will continue to support Kazakhstan in these endeavours. A new technical cooperation project started in 2012 focuses on strengthening national capabilities for radio-ecological studies to support assessing the feasibility of releasing parts of the former Semipalatinsk test site to normal economic use.

During the August 5 General Assembly meeting, numerous representatives of diplomatic missions to the United Nations commended Kazakhstan for its leadership in the field of non-proliferation and disarmament, noting that Kazakhstan remains at the forefront of international efforts to stop nuclear testing.

To legally end nuclear testing, it is necessary for the CTBT to enter into force. But so far only 159 of the 183 countries who have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty have ratified it. And the treaty will only come into effect when it is signed and ratified by the eight countries listed in Appendix II of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.

A statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was read to participants of the special meeting. “Throughout its history, efforts have also been underway at the United Nations to achieve an even bolder goal: a world free from nuclear weapons. This is one of my highest priorities and one that is shared by virtually all our member states and that has broad public support,” Ban Ki-moon wrote.

“Kazakhstan has shown through its actions what a determined people and a committed government can accomplish in eliminating grave nuclear threats. On this International Day Against Nuclear Tests, let us resolve to build on that commitment to outlaw all nuclear tests, everywhere, for all time. Let us continue our historic journey to a world free of nuclear tests and nuclear weapons,” Ban Ki-moon’s message read.

The International Day Against Nuclear Tests commemorates the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan on Aug. 29, 1991.The day is meant to galvanize the United Nations, member states, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, youth networks, and the media around the necessity of ending nuclear weapon tests as a critical step towards achieving a safer world.

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