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Kazakhstan marks anniversary of nuclear test site closure

Soviet Union conducted a nuclear test again. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the shutting down of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site by Kazakhstan where the Soviet Union conducted more than 450 tests with a cumulative power output equal to 2,500 Hiroshima bombs, Kazakh Ambassador to Jordan Bulat Sarsenbayev said.

Interviewed by The Jordan Times earlier this month, Sarsenbayev said the decision was historic.

It came, however, after decades during which citizens, unaware of the effects of nuclear tests on human beings, were subjected to radiation resulting from these tests.

“In 2009, the UN General Assembly adopted the date of the closure of this test site as an International Day Against Nuclear Tests. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, in his address before the General Assembly, said after the closure, “the site became a symbol of hope in a world free of nuclear weapons”, Sarsenbayev said.

Kazakhstan was the first of the former Soviet Union republics to close nuclear test grounds after the collapse of the USSR.

Kazakhstan had more nuclear warheads than France, the UK and China together, said the envoy, adding that the Semipalatinsk site is the largest in the world. With its closure, Central Asia became free of any nuclear presence.

“Over four decades, 450 nuclear tests were conducted at Semipalatinsk, causing suffering to 1.5 million people who had experienced the horror of nuclear testing,” the ambassador said, adding that as part of its peaceful foreign policy, Kazakhstan has set up a National Commission on Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which oversees the entire range of nuclear-related issues.

“For forty years, residents of East Kazakhstan lived under the cloud of nuclear fallout and contamination as the former USSR tested its weapons of mass destruction in the region. Those tests ended in 1989 but their legacy continues,” the diplomat said.

“In 1991, President Nursultan Nazarbayev showed extraordinary leadership by closing the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site and banishing nuclear weapons from Kazakhstan,” the ambassador said, adding that it was a “visionary step and a true declaration of independence, and made Kazakhstan a symbol of disarmament and hope for the future”.

According to statistics from the Kazakh health ministry, about 1.5 million people have been exposed to ionised radiation. In the Semey area, in east Kazakhstan, the cancer rate was 263.6 per 100,000 people, compared to the national rate of about 184 per 100,000 people.

Some experts said that radiation particles were carried by winds to a total of 300,000 square kilometres, or roughly one tenth of Kazakhstan and the size of Germany.

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