Building a #NuclearWeapons free world

| August 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

18ggfrx4zbcczjpgThe international community, including the EU, is being urged to step up its contribution to create a nuclear-free world, writes Colin Stevens.

The issue was thrust back into the spotlight most recently when North Korea testfired a submarine-based ballistic missile from its east coast on 25 August.

The exercise drew international condemnation and Daniel A. Pinkston, a professor at Troy University, said the fact that the rocket travelled as far as it did suggests the North Koreans are “making quite rapid progress, and probably more rapid progress than anyone had predicted”.

The call to remove such threats by seriously scaling down nuclear programmes comes as Kazakhstan marks the 25th anniversary of the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site on 29 August.

On Monday in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, an international conference entitled ‘Building a Nuclear Weapons Free World’ will take place.

It will be attended by political and religious leaders, experts in the field of disarmament, as well as representatives of civil society, international and regional organisations. Those present will include nations that possess nuclear weapons, as well as non-nuclear-weapon states.

The date, 29 August, is the anniversary of Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev’s decision to shut down Semipalatinsk and the date which has since been designated the UN International Day against Nuclear Weapons.

Kazakhstan suffered 450 Soviet nuclear weapons tests at the Semipalatinsk site between August 29, 1949 and 1991 when Nazarbayev finally gave the order to shut down the site.

The 42 years of testing, however, inflicted great suffering on both the Kazakh people and its environment. Tests negatively affected the health of more than 1.5 million Kazakh citizens including many who, to this day, in the first and the second generations, suffer early death, lifelong debilitating illness and horrific birth defects.

Vast areas of the region surrounding Semipalatinsk, roughly the land size of EU member state Germany, were contaminated in one way or another and are now just beginning to come back to life.

Following the closure of the Semipalatinsk site, Kazakhstan soon also renounced what was then the world’s fourth-largest nuclear arsenal and is now a world leader in the fight to permanently end nuclear weapons testing and, ultimately, to build a nuclear weapons free world.

Also on Monday, a special ceremony will take place in Ypres, Belgium to mark the landmark.

The Flemish city is known for the death and destruction it witnessed in World War I. The ceremony will take place in the town’s Cloth Hall close to a memorial which is dedicated to the many tens of thousands who fell in the Great War.

Almas Khamzayev, the ambassador of Kazakhstan’s embassy in Belgium, will join Jan Durnez, the Mayor of Ypres and vice president of Mayors for Peace, an organization that seeks to raise global awareness of the need to abolish nuclear weapons. The leaders will observe a minute’s silence in honour of victims of weapons of mass destruction and open a photographic exhibition to showcase Kazakhstan’s efforts in non-proliferation.

In 2012 the country launched The ATOM Project, a global initiative to help bring into force the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and show world leaders that the public worldwide is united in its desire to eliminate the nuclear weapons threat.

It specifically seeks to help bring into force the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and is an example of how Kazakhstan has led the way for the rest of the world on this issue.

The project puts a human face on this global issue by telling the stories of the survivors of nuclear testing. To this day, children are born with severe deformities, illnesses and a lifetime of health challenges as a result of exposure generations ago to nuclear weapons tests.

More than 260,000 people from over 100 countries have, so far, signed the petition. It is hoped to reach 300,000 signatures by the end of this month.

Ridding the world of nuclear weapons is also an effort supported by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who has noted that the world has “witnessed a substantial growth of interest in better understanding the catastrophic humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons”.

He said: “Achieving global nuclear disarmament is one of the oldest goals of the United Nations.  It was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution in 1946. It has been on the General Assembly’s agenda along with general and complete disarmament ever since 1959.

“It has been a prominent theme of review conferences held at the UN since 1975 of States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was identified a priority goal of the General Assembly’s first Special Session on disarmament in 1978, which attached a special priority to nuclear disarmament.  And it has been supported by every United Nations Secretary-General.”

His comments are endorsed by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano, who said: “As a human being, as Director General of the IAEA – and not least as a citizen of the only country ever to experience the unspeakable horror of nuclear bombs – I believe with all my heart and soul that these horrific weapons must be eliminated.”

Kazakhstan and the IAEA recently signed an agreement on establishing a low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel bank in the country in 2017. The bank will be a physical reserve of up to 90 metric tonnes of LEU, sufficient to run a 1,000 MWe light-water reactor. The load will be enough for such a reactor to power a large city for three years.

This will be stored as an option of last resort for countries with peaceful nuclear power programmes in the event of a disruption of their commercial fuel supplies.

For the EU, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is the “essential foundation” for the pursuit of nuclear disarmament.

A European Commission spokesman told EU Reporter: “International peace and security continue to be threatened by proliferation; this must be addressed in a resolute way in order to maintain the credibility and effectiveness of the NPT regime.”

The spokesman pointed out that there has been a reduction in nuclear weapons and nuclear material stockpiles with several countries now free of weapons-grade materials. Central Asia is among the regions which are nuclear weapons-free zones. But, even so, there are still approximately 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world.

The 25th anniversary is timely as it comes as the UN Open Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament is set to submit its report to the UN General Assembly on how multilateral progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons can be made.

Erlan Idrissov, the foreign minister of Kazakhstan, says his country had turned its back on nuclear “so that future generations may live on a safer and more stable planet.”

But its goal of global nuclear disarmament continues to remain frustratingly somewhat out of reach as was evidenced as recently as in January when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, defying United Nations Security Council resolutions, drew international condemnation when it conducted another nuclear weapons test.

As the world struggles to meet the twin demands of spreading prosperity and tackling climate change, the low-carbon energy that nuclear power produces becomes more important. The challenge is to balance this expansion while meeting fears about the spread and security of nuclear weapons.

So how can this best be achieved?

The IAEA says that the safe production of enriched uranium must be at the heart of any solution. The difficulty is that the facilities needed to produce the fuel which powers civilian nuclear plants can be modified to turn out weapons-grade uranium.

An IAEA source told this website that the key to overcoming this challenge is to find ways to provide countries with a guaranteed supply of enriched uranium to power nuclear plants, so there is no need for them to develop their own enrichment facilities.

Kazakhstan’s recent history shows that nations do not necessarily need a nuclear arsenal to feel safe. Its policy of eliminating nuclear weapons and strengthening the regime of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has earned the recognition of the international community.

Despite this, the uncertainty about the intentions of states such as North Korea and terrorist groups such as Islamic State suggests there should be no let-up in efforts to rid the world of the nuclear threat once and for all.

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Category: A Frontpage, Energy, EU, Featured Article, Fusion, Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan, Nuclear energy

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