Kazakhstan has unique perspective on UN nuclear weapons ban treaty negotiations

March 29, 2017

resized un logo on flagAs the United Nations began historic negotiations this week on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, Kazakhstan, along with numerous other concerned nations, has been fighting for nuclear weapons-free world for more than 25 years.

Kazakhstan, a nation roughly the size of Western Europe with a population of almost 18 million, was for a short time the world’s fourth largest nuclear weapons power. This former Soviet Republic inherited more than 1,400 warheads in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was an inheritance, however, that Kazakhstan did not want and which came at a horrific price.

From 1949 to 1989, the Soviet Union conducted more than 450 nuclear weapons test at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site near what is now the village of Semey. The tests contaminated an area roughly the size of Germany and more than 1.5 million Kazakhstan citizens have been impacted by the tests. Many to this day, in the first and second generations, suffer early death, lifelong debilitating illness and birth defects.

The site was finally shut down on Aug. 29, 1991 by Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan’s first and current president, who was following the will of the

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev will address the conference

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev

Kazakh people.

Knowing firsthand the horrors and human toll of nuclear weapons, Kazakhstan renounced the arsenal inherited from the Soviet Union and has since been a leader in the global effort to seek a world free of nuclear weapons.

That decades long effort led President Nazarbayev in 2012 to establish The ATOM Project. The ATOM Project is a global initiative to permanently end nuclear weapons testing and to seek a nuclear weapons free world. The project’s petition has already attracted more than 300,000 signatures from citizens across the globe who want a safer world.

Kazakhstan also successfully petitioned the United Nations to adopt August 29, the closure date of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. Kazakhstan was also elected in 2016 to a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2017-2018. Among other issues of international peace and security, Kazakhstan will use its time on the Council to encourage other members to support nuclear disarmament.

Kazakhstan’s suffering under Soviet nuclear weapons tests and the impact of those tests on victims living today, including The ATOM Project Honorary Ambassador Karipbek Kuyukov, can be seen in a recently-released 23-minute BBC documentary. The documentary traces the history of ROM_5352nuclear weapons testing in Kazakhstan through the life of Kuyukov, who was born without arms as a result of his parents’ exposure to the Soviet-era tests. He has overcome his physically challenges to become a renowned artist who has dedicated his life and art to the nonproliferation movement. His most recent works can be viewed at also travels the world as Honorary Ambassador to The ATOM Project, displaying his art and urging government leaders to seek a nuclear-weapons-free world.

“I am very glad this issue is being addressed by the UN. I think it means that politicians realize how important this issue is. Maybe this is a sign that the ice will finally melt. I hope this turns into the victory for our cause. And whatever we can do to help speed this resolution we will do everything to help,” Kuyukov said this week.

The BBC documentary featuring Kuyukov can be seen at

At least 113 countries are participating this week in the historic talks meant to establish a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” To help support government leaders in their efforts to negotiate a nuclear ban, please sign and share The ATOM Project petition at