A panel of five experts speaking about the catastrophic consequences of nuclear tests.

Kazakhstan Continues to Suffer Awful Impact of Nuclear Tests

By Aurora Weiss

VIENNA. 4 August 2023 (IDN) — The Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan, along with Japan and other Pacific Island states, is one of the most challenging in terms of the consequences of testing or use of nuclear weapons. Being a young state, Kazakhstan is facing a very heavy heritage and its difficult legacy.

Generations of many people are suffering from various diseases caused by nuclear testing. Even carrying the popular name “nuclear shield of Russia” it appears that the neighbouring land has forgotten nuclear testing victims, the people who paid the price of the shield in the Soviet era.

Sharing the same past, but also the problems they face in the present and future, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, Soka Gakkai International (SGI), and Center for International Security and Policy organized the side event “The Catastrophic Consequences of Atom Bomb TestingA First Person’s Testimony”. It is a part of the program during the Preparatory Committee for the 2026 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) that is taking place here from 31 July to 11 August at the United Nations in Vienna.

Arman Baissuanov, Director of International Security at the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, Alimzhan Akhmetov, the Founder-Director of the Center for International Security and Policy, Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues, Soka Gakkai International, Dmitriy Vesselov a third generation Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing survivor, Alicia Sanders-Zakre, Policy and Research Coordinator at International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) took the stage, and Sanya Rajpal (SGI-UK) held the rudder moderating the event.

Kazakh government representative Arman Baissuanov opened the conference, highlighting TPNW articles 6 and 7. The victims’ assistance should be crucial, the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of all victims and also financial compensation. The Trust fund, inside the TPNW Framework, is also of great importance for victim assistance and environmental remediation.

In the Vienna Action Plan adopted at the First Meeting of States Parties, states agreed to discuss the “feasibility of and propose possible guidelines for” establishing an international trust fund that could provide financial support to victim assistance and environmental remediation activities (action 29).

During November this year, the 2nd meeting of state parties of TPNW will take place in New York, with Mexico serving as President. Kazakhstan has already announced that they will chair the third meeting of the state parties to the TPNW in 2024.

“I hope that all state, and international organizations, civil society groups, and survivors can suggest guiding points to move forward,” told Baissuanov, the government representative of the state where, decades ago, Soviet military scientists detonated 456 nuclear bombs, exposing the high doses of radiation more than one million of people.

Deep pain seeing the countless people who suffered, and continue to suffer, the effects of the nuclear radiation as a result of nuclear tests conducted in the former Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site area was something that stayed embedded in the memory of Hirotsugu Terasaki (SGI International) until today.

He visited that area for the first time in 2019. through the arrangements of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan. SGI Director General of Peace and Global Issues has seen the same destiny that Japan shared with Kazakhstan regarding the suffering of victims of nuclear radiation.

“As you know, the voices of the hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki played a pivotal role in the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. However, the plight of the “global hibakusha”—the numerous individuals who have been exposed to radiation through nuclear testing and uranium mining—their plight has not received sufficient recognition”, stressed Terasaki.

He said, we must keep at the forefront of our minds the terrible anguish of all those who lost their lives, were injured, or otherwise suffered the effects of nuclear weapons. Their cries continue to echo across the globe, and it needs to be ensured that these individual tragedies are never forgotten. That’s why the SGI has worked together with ICAN to carry out grassroots awareness-raising activities on the humanitarian impact and risks of nuclear weapons.

“So long as the risk of nuclear weapon use persists, we must never lose consciousness of the violent threat and affront to our humanity that these weapons pose. Together, let us send a resolute message to the world that we will not tolerate the existence of nuclear weapons, and let us continue to forge a path toward their abolition”, concluded Terasaki.

The first-hand story of the victim of nuclear testing touched all the present government representatives as well as the academic community and NGOs.

Dmitriy Vesselov was born in the Kazakh Soviet Republic in 1976, in Semipalatinsk, a place just 100 kilometers from the former nuclear test site. He is the third-generation survivor of nuclear tests and suffers from a genetic disease that prevents him from living a full life—and will be passed down from generation to generation. He has acromioclavicular dysostosis which is characterized by the fact that a person has no clavicles. His hands are held only by muscles and ligaments, and he also has anomalies in the development of the bones and skull, as well as susceptibility to diseases of the broncho-pulmonary system and arthrosis.

In 2015 Dmitry was recognized as a victim of exposure to ionizing radiation. The problem is that he doesn’t have any benefits and that he must pay for medical insurance and treatment. Significant benefits that his health condition requires are provided only to disable people, and he was denied a disability group. Also, a special state monthly allowance is only for those people who are recognized as disabled, or to one of the family members of a victim who dies from diseases caused by ionizing radiation.

“Victims of nuclear testing are left alone in Kazakhstan,” Vesselov pointed out. He hopes that his story serves as a reminder of the tragic consequences of using nuclear weapons.

Between 1945 and 2017, more than two thousand nuclear test explosions were conducted around the world, resulting in epidemics of cancers and other chronic illnesses. The victims of these experiments must not be forgotten and their demands for justice and assistance must be met.

“The international community should first help the victims and then chase the perpetrators,” stressed Alicia Sanders-Zakre, Policy and Research Coordinator at ICAN. She regretted the current situation in which the primary focus is on the victims.

“Imagine you see someone shooting someone on the road in front of you. You will certainly not start running after the perpetrator to catch him. First, you will run to help the victim,” explained Sanders-Zakre.

Considering that the nuclear arsenal on a global level is increasing, not decreasing, she said, it is necessary for states that own nuclear weapons to be faced with the human element when we talk about the consequences. Not only have nuclear weapons been deployed twice in war, but they have also been tested in 15 countries. The very production of these weapons has a humanitarian impact. Testing at just one location in the USA has spread to 48 states as well as neighbouring countries.

As part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of non-governmental organizations in one hundred countries promoting adherence to and implementation of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, in 2022 they launched the website nucleartestimpacts.org

It offers an overview of all the tests, details of who produced them and in which year, as well as stories from victims seeking justice.

Nuclear weapons are the most inhumane and indiscriminate weapons ever created. They violate international law, cause environmental damage, undermine national and global security, and divert vast public resources away from meeting human needs.

In this crucial global moment when the risk of nuclear weapons use is higher than at any time since the Cold War, it is necessary to heed what UN Secretary-General António Guterres says, “Let’s eliminate these weapons before they eliminate us”, and campaign for action because “disarmament is everybody’s business because life itself is everybody’s business”. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo Credit: Katsuhiro Asagiri, Multimedia Director of IDN-INPS. (From L to R): Alicia Sanders-Zakre, Policy and Research Coordinator at International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Alimzhan Akhmetov, the Founder-Director of the Center for International Security and Policy, Kazakhstan, Dmitriy Vesselov a third generation Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing survivor, Arman Baissuanov, Director of International Security at the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues, Soka Gakkai International (SGI),  Sanya Rajpal (SGI-UK)

This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 4 August 2023.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate

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