Nuclear bombardment of Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945 resulted in 110,000 to 210,000 victims. Though nuclear weapons were not used later on in any combat, the casualties caused by nuclear weapons: tests, productions and accidents are huge.
Since the first test in Alamogordo in July there have been 2,121 tests: USA – 1,032, USSR – 727, UK – 88, France – 217, China – 47, India – 3, Pakistan – 3, North Korea – 7, Israel – unknown. International physicians for prohibition of nuclear war (IPPNW) estimated that over 2,000 tests caused over 2.4 million casualties – an order of magnitude more than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Unbelievably, those testing killed ten times more of their own people (mostly Aborigines and American Indians) than of so called “enemies.”
Much more accurate are the numbers based on the data from Kazakhstan. Over four decades, between 1949 and 1989 the Semipalatinsk Test Site in eastern Kazakhstan was one of the primary locations for Soviet nuclear testing. About 460 nuclear tests were conducted above ground, underground, and in the atmosphere, releasing enormous amounts of radioactive material into the air, water, and soil. More than 1.5 million people in Kazakhstan were exposed to radioactive fallout during these atmospheric and underground tests, and vast tracts of land are now contaminated in Semei (previously Semipalatinsk) and the surrounding areas.
According to the experts, the total power of atmospheric explosions exceeded the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by 2,500 times. In 1991, Kazakhstan shut down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, renounced its nuclear-weapon status and began decommissioning its nuclear military arsenal, the fourth largest in the world at that time. The number of tests in Semipalatinsk (460) and throughout the world (2,121) differ by a factor of 4 leading to close to 4-5 million casualties due to nuclear tests.
Of course, these numbers cannot be compared: two nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while tests included over 2,000 nuclear explosives, mostly of nuclear weapons (NW) 1,000 times more powerful. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are relatively large cities of several thousand inhabitants, while tests were performed allegedly in the non-populated areas.
On the initiative of Kazakhstan the UN declared August 29 International Day against Nuclear Tests, universally adopted by 2009.
While many discussions about the potential use of nuclear weapons touch on topics such as mutually assured destruction (MAD), tactical nuclear weapons, Nuclear Utilization Target Selection (NUTS), and the modernization of nuclear capabilities, most participants in these discussions have limited firsthand knowledge of the catastrophic human consequences of nuclear warfare. In contrast, the people of Kazakhstan, including many of their leaders, have directly experienced the devastating impacts of numerous nuclear tests conducted at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site over a span of forty years, from 1949 to 1989. The first of these tests, known as Pervaya Molniya (First Lightning), took place on August 29, 1949, five years earlier than the CIA had predicted. During a brief meeting between then U.S. President Harry Truman and physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, Truman had asserted that the Soviets would never be able to develop nuclear bombs.
In total, 456 tests were conducted at Semipalatinsk, with 340 occurring underground and 116 above ground. The fallout from these tests has had severe, long-lasting effects on Kazakhstan’s citizens, including premature deaths, lifelong debilitating illnesses, and horrific birth defects such as “jelly babies,” born without limbs, among other malformations. In recognition of this grim history and as part of its commitment to nuclear disarmament, Kazakhstan has both signed and ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). It was among the original 50 state parties to ratify the treaty.
Kazakhstan inherited 1,400 Soviet nuclear warheads and quickly relinquished it, emphasizing that security is better achieved through disarmament and negotiation. Kazakhstan initiated a global moment of silence to honor all victims of nuclear weapons testing. It is at 11:05 everywhere at local time, the clock hands then show V standing for victory. Elimination of nuclear weapons and of war will be truly humankind’s victory. Violence and war are not humans’ basic features but are social constructs. We invented wars and we can terminate wars.
I collaborated for 40 years with physicists from Los Alamos (1962 – when we measured neutron-neutron force, which they failed – to 2002) working at small (Van der Graaf and large (LAMPPF) accelerators. Many of my collaborators worked directly or indirectly on NW design. Though I never had clearance nor applied for the USA citizenship I participated in many discussions concerning nuclear tests. Most of my friends stated that the development of NW crucially depends on testing. Many were concerned that their labs will be closed if development of nuclear bombs is terminated. I always argued that laboratories should be strengthened, but only rarely used for weapons development and all under the international, UN control. Scientists in Los Alamos used nuclear explosions to measure important nuclear data at the Nevada test site. I was a chief consultant for one such project, but a treaty prohibiting even underground tests prevented it.
On July 9, 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto signed by 11 outstanding scientists was issued stressing “Here is the problem we present to you, stark, dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to human race or shall mankind renounce war! …Remember your humanity and forget the rest!” Why we still waste enormousresources on developing weapons that soon become obsolete? Why do we start wars? Why wars? War is immoral, illegal and useless. All wars from the end of the World War II and there are many: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, many in Latin America, constant conflicts between Israel and some Arab states, and Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and all wars since 1945 did not achieve their objectives (with possible exception of Gulf I) and superpower involved in these wars had to admit they failed.
Humankind achieved important successes. Our world today is the best ever, but vulnerable and self-destructive and in less than a few decades our natural and human capitals will be destroyed. Most threats and dangers affecting our world are global: bio-extinction, climate change, extreme weather, pollution, insufficient energy and food. Remember our humanity implies preserving and enriching human, social and natural capitals.
Destruction of human capital includes: shortage of food, enormous inequality making masses of people excluded and marginalized, considered to be only consumer goods to be used and then discarded – thereby creating a throwaway class – precariat, almost worse than slaves. Increasing human capital implies education, research, creativity and knowledge and most countries do not assure enough resources to achieve these conditions. Kazakhstan is among the better ones with about 150 universities, two in the top list.
We were never as close to doomsday as we are today. The Doomsday clock introduced in 1947 and then put at seven minutes to midnight since 2020 is constantly at 100 seconds. Manifesto was primarily inspired by nuclear weapons threats caused at that time by only two nuclear powers: the USA and the USSR. Today nine countries have nuclear weapons. We are closer to world nuclear war than ever. In a world that is global, interdependent and fast changing we act as if empires, interest spheres and dominance matter and should matter. As if alliances and weapons could save us from weapons of mass destruction (another WMD) and all self-destructions we inflict upon us.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is an excellent role model to be followed to eliminate wars altogether. It is imperative to forbid production, selling and distribution of all and any weapons. A very large tax can be imposed on selling any weapons, to make it totally non-profitable. We realize that there is a very large stock of weapons waiting to be sold. We realize that all sovereign states have large armaments, quite a large fraction obsolete and that many are willing to give it away freely. A new question opens: should sovereign states be allowed to research and invent new weapons?
Breakthrough fundamental research often leads to new weapons and we might need them against presently unknown aggressor. However, all novel weapons should be under total control of the global government, regardless whether they are produced in a specific country. The UN structure has been fairly successful, but it still needs considerable improvements.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has served for several years in the UN as Director General of the UN Office Geneva and as UN Undersecretary and his enormous experience increases the already high position of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan ratified the START 1 Treaty in 1992 and four years later, in September 1996, all of Kazakhstan’s 104 ICBMs were safely removed to Russia and destroyed, three years ahead of the schedule laid out in the Treaty. Kazakhstan became a party to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear-weapon State on Dec. 13, 1993.
Kazakhstan was among the first to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, and subsequently ratified it in 2002. Kazakhstan has been making a tangible contribution to the establishment of an effective verification regime under that treaty by working closely with the CTBT Organization to establish the International Monitoring System, which includes five stations in Kazakhstan that are used to continuously monitor natural and induced seismic activity in the region.
In 2009, at the initiative of Kazakhstan the United Nations declared August 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. This day marks both the closure of the Semipalatinsk test site in 1991 and the date of the first Soviet nuclear test conducted there in 1949.
Kazakhstan has been a staunch promoter of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation since its independence. In 2006 Kazakhstan, together with its neighbors, created a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in Central Asia (entered into force in 2009).
Kazakhstan also supports the establishment of additional nuclear and/or WMD-free zones in the Middle East, Northeast Asia and Europe. In 2012, Kazakhstan launched The ATOM (Abolish Testing. Our Mission) Project, an international education and advocacy campaign seeking to galvanize global public opinion against nuclear weapon testing and nuclear weapons.
In 2015, the government of Kazakhstan signed a host country agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to establish a low-enriched uranium bank in the country to provide the world with a guaranteed supply of the fuel for civic nuclear energy. In 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration for the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World put forward by Kazakhstan (subsequently reconfirmed with increasing number of votes at the UN General Assembly sessions in 2018 and 2021).
Kazakhstan played an important role in the success of the Iranian nuclear deal by hosting two rounds of negotiations between Iran and P5+1 in 2013. During the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2026 NPT Review Conference (Vienna, July 2023) Kazakhstan was elected as the Chair of the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2026 NPT Review Conference.
Kazakhstan strives to ensure a balanced working approach to reinforce the treaty’s review process and advance its key objectives – nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Kazakhstan’s vision for a world free from nuclear weapons emphasizes general and complete nuclear disarmament and the abolition of nuclear testing – essential for achieving global peace and security.
To support the global cause of nuclear disarmament Kazakhstan joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2019 among the first states to do so.
As a country that gravely suffered from nuclear testing, Kazakhstan is co-chairing jointly with Kiribati the working group on victim assistance, environmental remediation, international cooperation and assistance in the framework of the TPNW. One of the main objectives is the establishment of an International Trust Fund to enable projects on victim assistance. Kazakhstan will assume the Presidency over the Third meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, expected to take place in 2025 in New York.
In September 2019, President Tokayev urged the international community to make a nuclear-free world a reality. In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Tokayev stated that achieving a nuclear-free world has become an essential part of Kazakhstan’s national identity.
Last year, President Tokayev stated that “nuclear explosions have caused severe damage to the Kazakh land. Such a tragedy should not happen again. Our country will stand firm behind the principles of nuclear security.” Kazakhstan remains committed to advancing disarmament efforts on the global stage. The country continues to actively participate in multilateral forums and engage in dialogue with other nations to promote nuclear non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Kazakhstan works with all like-minded partners towards achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world by 2045, the centennial of the founding of the United Nations.
It is mentioned that Kazakhstan is a Euro-Asian country. The International Day against Nuclear Tests is an excellent example of how a country of about 20 million – Kazakhstan – can be a global role model. Kazakhstan is a country stretching from the Caspian sea to China and Mongolia. It includes hundreds of different nationalities and it is located in an area which for centuries was and is the domain of interest and conflict between superpowers: British (now the USA), Russian and Chinese empires. During the last 30 years Kazakhstan was and is not only a regional but globalrole model of stability, constantly increasing welfare of its citizens and constantly increasing its democracy. Transforming our World requires more freedom and more democracy than we have currently.
Our world has to be human–centered and humanity-centered.
Societal global threats and challenges can be aggregated into three groups. The first pertains to violence and wars. Many previous wars in the world proved that those producing, selling and disseminating weapons – those who benefit from war, from testing new weapons and investigating superiority of various weapons are sacrificing humankind for their profit and greed.
The second threat deals with the destruction of natural and human capitals. Humankind can still save itself if we change the economic and political road that we are on, if we change ourselves: no more arrogance, ignorance and violence. It has to be done urgently since the window of opportunity is about a decade.
The third threat concerns new technologies that have beneficial but also disruptive, dangerous consequences.
Artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing and synthetic biology are among those that we already witness. We need leadership, humility, research, empathy and knowledge. In 2001 Nobel laureates expressed “It is time to turn our backs on unilateral search for security, in which we seek shelter behind walls… To survive in this world we must learn to think in a different way. As never before, the future of each depends on the good of all.”
The UN General Assembly unanimously adopted in September 2015 document: Transform our World – it requires to increase our natural and human capital and to transform ourselves. Each country, each of us is responsible.
The author is Ivo Šlaus, the Honorary President of the World Academy of Art and Science, Member of the Pugwash Council, Honorary member of The Club of Rome and member of Academia Europaea, of the Croatian, Montenegrin and Macedonian Academies of Science, member European Leadership Network.