29 August 2019
On August 29, 1991, the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, N.A. Nazarbayev signed historical Decree on “Closure of Semipalatinsk Test Site”. Eighteen years later, after STS closure, the United Nations General Assembly declared August 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.
The decision of Kazakhstan on the voluntary renunciation of the nuclear power status was an unprecedented and completely new step in building interstate relations. Kazakhstan voluntarily abandoned the fourth nuclear potential in the world and has become the first country in the world to achieve the closure of nuclear test sites on its territory and call for this point all the humanity.
Thus, exactly 42 years after the first nuclear explosion in the USSR, nuclear tests at STS were terminated forever. The history put an end and the STS with the whole infrastructure of nuclear testing and radiation consequences was inherited as the “legacy” for young independent state - the Republic of Kazakhstan, which from the first days of its sovereignty began to pursue an active policy aimed at strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
“We are proud that our country despite all the difficulties of a political and social nature closed the STS and abandoned nuclear weapons. This is a merit of all the people of Kazakhstan and our first President – Yelbasy (Leader of the Nation) N.A. Nazarbayev. This is our key contribution to the global stability and security – noted Erlan Batyrbekov, Director General of the National Nuclear Center. – Subsequently, all the peaceful initiatives of our country made Kazakhstan the leader of the global anti-nuclear movement. This fact is recognized by the international community. I consider it important to emphasize that Kazakhstan’s outstanding contribution to the cause of non-proliferation has become large-scale activities to eliminate the infrastructure and consequences of nuclear weapons tests, the conversion of the former military-industrial complex of STS for peaceful purposes. These and many other works were assigned to the National Nuclear Center of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and we are rightfully proud of today's results.”
The territory of the former STS is completely cleaned from the consequences of the USSR military-industrial complex infrastructure nuclear activity. By 2000, just 9 years after the STS closure, all tunnels and boreholes designed for underground nuclear explosion of nuclear charges were brought to a state not allowing them to be used for their intended purpose. Seven major projects were implemented at three testing sites, as a result of which partial rehabilitation of the contaminated territory and access exclusion to nuclear wastes were carried out.
To prevent the proliferation of highly hazardous materials and double use technologies, a lot of work have been done by the National Nuclear Center on BN-350 reactor decommissioning and spent nuclear fuel transferring to “Baikal-1” reactor complex for long-term storage. This material is currently under IAEA safeguards and does not represent any proliferation threat. Three-level physical protection system has been created at all STS objects, providing reliable protection. Reliable physical barriers have been constructed at 44 objects to prevent unauthorized access to nuclear wastes.
Along with the efforts on STS infrastructure elimination, NNC RK addressed a number of issues on demilitarization of a powerful scientific and technical base located at STS, including “Baikal-1” and IGR research reactor complexes, where three reactors and experimental benches were located. Preservation and development of the unique infrastructure had allowed developing such an important direction for the Republic – as nuclear power engineering.
Today, National Nuclear Center of RK solves tasks in area of safe atomic power and radioecology at STS. More than 60% of the territory was surveyed, above 2 mln. field measurements were made and over 100 thousand laboratory tests were carried out. All significant areas of radioactive contamination, main routes and mechanisms of the current and potential spread of radioactive substances are determined. It is planned to complete the complex ecological survey of the territory by 2021 – for 30-th Anniversary of Kazakhstan Independence.
Unique applied scientific researches are carried out on research base considering issues of reactor physics, nuclear technologies, nuclear fuel and reactor materials testing in critical heat modes, radiation resistance of structural materials and so on.
“One of the principal results in Kazakhstani policy aimed at reinforcing nuclear weapon non-proliferation regime is a considerable interest of world organizations in learning from our experience on nuclear weapon infrastructure consequences elimination at STS, - comments Erlan Batyrbekov. – STS is annually attended by more than fifty of international Mass Media. Accordingly, we afford an opportunity to the whole world community to talk about the consequences of nuclear weapon use, how many resources will be required for such consequences elimination, what damage can be done to people and the environment.”.