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Citing ‘horrific’ human, environmental effects, UN officials urge global ban on nuclear tests

Atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States on 18 April 1953 at the Nevada Test Site.
US Government
Atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States on 18 April 1953 at the Nevada Test Site.

Citing ‘horrific’ human, environmental effects, UN officials urge global ban on nuclear tests

United Nations senior officials today repeated their call on Member States to take action to ban nuclear testing, stressing their horrific effects on human lives and the environment.

“We should all remember the terrible toll of nuclear tests,” Mr. Ban said in his message to the General Assembly on the fourth observance of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. “It is time to address the horrific human and environmental effects of nuclear tests through a global ban, the most reliable means to meet these challenges.”

The International Day highlights the efforts of the UN and a growing community of advocates, including Member States, non-governmental organizations, academia, and media, in raising awareness of the importance of the nuclear test ban.

The General Assembly chose 29 August as the annual commemoration date since it marks the day in 1991 when Semipalatinsk, one of the largest test sites in the world and located in north-eastern Kazakhstan, was closed permanently. The body held an informal session today, under the theme “The Path to Zero,” giving Member States the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

“A total of 456 nuclear tests were carried at Semipalatinsk since the first explosion there more than 64 years ago. Nearly one and a half million people were affected by the consequences of nuclear testing, and an immense territory has been contaminated with radiation,” Mr. Ban said.

“Today, 183 countries have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and 159 have ratified it. I once again urge all States to sign and ratify the CTBT without further delay. Eight States whose ratifications are necessary for the Treaty to enter into force have a special responsibility: China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.”

President of the United Nations General Assembly Vuk Jeremic joined Mr. Ban’s call to Member States, and encouraged them to participate in the first high-level meeting of the General Assembly on nuclear disarmament, which will take place later this month.

Mr. Jeremic recalled the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki noting that “what happened there is a permanent reminder of the horrible, unmatched devastation caused by the use of nuclear weapons. Any test, conducted by anyone anywhere, increases the likelihood they will be used again one day.”

“There are some who see nothing wrong with stockpiling atomic bombs that can destroy entire cities in a heartbeat. Let them go to Hiroshima; let them stand before the cenotaph—the sombre monument to the victims of an unparalleled calamity inflicted by the hand of man,” he said.

Also addressing the meeting was Geoffrey Shaw, representative of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the UN, who highlighted the agency’s key role in verifying the compliance of States with their commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear material under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“By doing so, the IAEA has made an important contribution to global efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons,” he said, specifically noting that IAEA safeguards in connection with NPT commitments comprise measures by which the Agency independently verifies the correctness and the completeness of the declarations made by States about their nuclear material and activities.

Mr. Shaw also noted that the IAEA continues to assist States to characterize residual radioactivity in areas affected by nuclear weapons tests to assess whether the safe use of such land is possible, or whether remedial actions are needed.

As an example, he said that for many years, the IAEA assisted the Government of Kazakhstan to assess the radiological contamination of territories affected by nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk site. And the IAEA will continue to support Kazakhstan in these endeavours. A new technical cooperation project started in 2012 focused on strengthening national capabilities for radio-ecological studies to support assessing the feasibility of releasing parts of the Semipalatinsk Test Site to normal economic use.

Vladimir Bozhko, Minister for Emergency Situations of Kazakhstan, stressed that observance of the International Day questions the legitimacy of nuclear tests and weapons in military, political and security doctrines.

“It highlights their catastrophic humanitarian consequences on human wellbeing, health, the genetics of survivors, as well as impact on the world’s climate and food production and water supply,” he said, adding that the devastating explosive blasts, direct nuclear radiation, thermal radiation and fall-out have make the full rehabilitation of people and environment nearly impossible.

As such, he said that the International Day “is not just a day to remember, [but] a day to act” and called for a “disarmament race” bolstered by bolt multilateral action to not only diminish but completely wipe out the threats posed by nuclear weapons.