Nation Set for Marking 20th Anniversary of Closing Semipalatinsk Test Site

Nation Set for Marking 20th Anniversary of Closing Semipalatinsk Test SiteOn August 29, Kazakhstan will mark the 20th anniversary of President Nazarbayev’s historic decision to shut down the infamous Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, which ended the forty years of suffering the Soviet nuclear testing had imposed on the nation. This day will also mark the International Day against Nuclear Tests—a UN designated date that will be observed the second time this year. Kazakhstan’s move to close the world’s second largest nuclear test site and renounce its nuclear arsenal became a turning point in the history of the nation and, quite possibly, the world, as it showed the international community a way towards a future free of nuclear weapons.

On 2 December 2009, the 64th session of the UN General Assembly declared August 29 the International Day against Nuclear Tests by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35. The day is devoted to enhancing public awareness and education about the necessity of banning nuclear tests as a significant step towards a safer world. Last year marked the day’s first official observance with various activities throughout the world, such as conferences, exhibits, competitions, media broadcasts and others. A number of events were held at the UN Headquarters, which plans similar activities for the 2011 observance. Among the largest events this time will be the international ‘Nuclear Dilemmas: Present & Future’ to be held in The Hague on August 30. Kazakhstan’s Secretary of State Kanat Saudabayev and the Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, among others, will participate.

In his recent message in the run-up to August 29, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underlined that this year’s observance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests will mark the twentieth anniversary of the closure of the Semipalatinsk test site, which for a long time was a cause of misery for Kazakhstan’s people. “Having visited the scene of this dark chapter in human history, I wish to emphasize my support for the Government and people of Kazakhstan as they continue to cope with the aftermath. I commend efforts to ensure that something positive may result from highlighting the horrific effects of these tests,” Ban Ki-moon said. He also called on all states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and by this “take a bold step towards a safer and saner world for all.”

The call for a world free of nuclear weapons has always been the underlying message of all activities designed to commemorate the August 29th. This year, the Norwegian organization Bike for Peace and the Kazakhstan authorities organised a bicycle ride through Kazakhstan to promote non-proliferation and international peace. The tour started in Semey on August 6 – the day when Hiroshima suffered the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945. During a 24-day ride, ten Norwegian and six Kazakhstan cyclists have been travelling through different regions of Kazakhstan and are scheduled to complete their tour in Astana on August 29.

Activities dedicated to the observance of International Day against Nuclear Test find support in the international community, but most of all among the people of Kazakhstan. This date has a symbolic meaning in the history of the country, as it was also the day when the Soviets detonated the first nuclear bomb at the Semipalatinsk polygon in 1949. Over the next forty years, the Kazakh land saw around 500 of such explosions, which left a disastrous impact on the health of the local population and the environment. Thus, the organization of the anti-nuclear Nevada – Semipalatinsk movement in 1989 and President Nazarbayev’s decree on closing the site in 1991 were the long-awaited and welcomed developments in the history of Kazakh people. Since then on, the problems related to the test site experience are always under the active consideration of the state, while marking the August 29th turned into a nationwide undertaking.