Kazakh Activist Calls for Support for Nuclear Test Victims at ICAN Forum in Oslo

ASTANA – Kazakh activist and director of the Astana-based Center for International Security and Policy Alimzhan Akhmetov called for support for victims of nuclear tests as he took part in the ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) Act On It Forum in Oslo on March 9-10.  

Panel session attended by Akhmetov. Photo credit: kommunikasjon.ntb.no.

ICAN, headquartered in Geneva, is a global civil society coalition that aims to promote the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Founded in 2007, it has grown into a diverse and effective movement comprising hundreds of partner organizations in over 100 countries.

In his remarks, Akhmetov highlighted the tragic fate the nation faced in the Soviet times, when hundreds of nuclear tests on the Semipalatinsk test site were conducted between 1949 and 1991. The tests were conducted above ground, underground, and in the atmosphere, releasing enormous amounts of radioactive material into the air, water, and soil.

Alimzhan Akhmetov. Photo credit: Kazakh Embassy in Norway.

“456 nuclear explosions were carried out at the Semipalatinsk test site, 116 of them were atmospheric,” said Alimzhan Akhmetov during the forum in Oslo.

The impact of the tests on the people of Kazakhstan was catastrophic, and at least 1.5 million continue to suffer from its consequences. The tests also incurred a devastating impact on the environment, with large areas of land becoming contaminated and unsuitable for farming or habitation.  

“According to experts, the total power of atmospheric explosions exceeded the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by 2,500 times. More than 1.5 million people suffered from nuclear tests in Kazakhstan. On Aug. 29, 1991, the world’s largest nuclear test site, Semipalatinsk, was closed. The landfill area was 18,500 square kilometers, which is comparable to the territory of individual states,” said Akhmetov.

The ICAN Act On It Forum in Oslo brought together experts, campaigners, and NGOs to learn and exchange about new mechanisms to advocate for nuclear disarmament and the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

The two-day forum featured workshops, panels and discussions on how to abolish nuclear weapons and encourage nuclear-complicit states to join the UN treaty. 

ICAN defines nuclear-complicit states as states that “may not have their own nuclear weapons, but they are enablers of the status quo by pretending to be in favor of nuclear disarmament while also actively supporting nuclear weapons in their national security policies and doing little to support the disarmament movement.”

Nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament has become a key foreign policy priority for Kazakhstan, the nation that voluntarily dismantled its once the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal. At that time, Kazakhstan had 1,040 nuclear warheads deployed on 104 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 30 strategic bombers, and 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium.

In 2009, the UN declared Aug. 29, the day of the closure of the Semipalatinsk test site, as the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

“However, people continue to face consequences from nuclear tests. Now in Kazakhstan, we have a fourth generation of survivors,” Akhmetov added.

He also told the forum participants about the environmental disaster and stories of people, who are suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, resulting in shortened life expectancy.

“There are several complicated issues in health care, socio-economic development, and infrastructure in the affected region. For example, you can send an ambulance but it can not reach the place because there is no road to get there. I am not telling you this to scare you, but to be united in our efforts to tackle the challenges and problems we face,” Akhmetov told the audience.

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