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KAZAKHSTAN: ENCOURAGING CIVILIAN NUCLEAR ENERGY, WITH SECURITY IN MIND

Astana, August 27: Wherever we look in the world, there are dark clouds overhead. The global economy remains fragile. Violent extremism is putting lives and stability at risk. Old tensions and divisions between nuclear powers have been re-awakened.

These divisions have again brought into sharp focus the terrible dangers that nuclear weapons pose to our world’s survival. Despite recent welcome reductions in the number of warheads, those that remain could destroy humanity many times over. This threat has been made far worse by the active pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by violent extremists who would not hesitate to cause unimaginable death and destruction.

It is against this sombre background that there have been, in recent weeks, two powerful signs of hope.

The agreement over Iran’s nuclear programme shows what can be achieved through commitment and patient negotiation. Kazakhstan was proud to have contributed to the historic agreement by hosting two rounds of talks between Iran and the P5+1 negotiators in 2013.

Building on this progress, this week will see the signing in Astana of the agreement to establish the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Bank of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) in Kazakhstan. It is an historic step which will have a far-reaching impact and underlines Kazakhstan’s strong commitment to peace and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The LEU Bank will serve as an assurance of supply mechanism of last resort in case of disruption of the open market.

It will allow states that use nuclear power stations and seek ways to ensure reliable fuel supplies, to forego the expense of developing their own enrichment capabilities, if they so choose. Of course, choosing either way of developing atomic energy is a sovereign decision of a state, yet the IAEA LEU Bank allows them an opportunity to save resources when implementing such programmes. At the same time, the Bank will make it difficult for countries to argue that they need indigenous uranium enrichment to assert their right to peaceful nuclear energy. In turn, it will reduce mistrust between nations. Fundamentally, it will prove a significant hurdle for those attempting to proliferate nuclear weapons.

Kazakhstan is a natural host for the Bank. We are the biggest producer of natural uranium. But our people also know first-hand the devastation of nuclear weapons. Our determination to work for a world free of nuclear weapons has defined our nation and our place in the international community.

As soon as Kazakhstan became independent, we voluntarily renounced the world’s fourth biggest nuclear and missile arsenal. Even before independence, we took the decision to shut down the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing site.

Both decisions were strongly backed by our citizens. They know, more than any other population in peacetime, the catastrophic impact of nuclear weapons. The radioactive fall-out from nearly 500 Soviet nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk caused illness and death on a sickening scale. Hundreds of thousands of people were ravaged by radiation, and the tests left huge areas of our land contaminated, even today.

We have worked tirelessly to prevent other countries suffering as we have. Kazakhstan is a signatory to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and has campaigned passionately for a universal ban on nuclear testing. We won the support of the United Nations to commemorate the annual anniversary of the closing of the Semipalatinsk site on August 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. And we have launched The ATOM Project, giving global citizens an opportunity to urge their leaders to end nuclear testing permanently and ensure the early entry into force of the CTBT.

We have been active participants in all three Nuclear Security Summits to step up global efforts against nuclear terrorism. But we remain convinced that the only way to prevent the terrifying consequences of warheads being exploded, either accidentally or deliberately, is a world free of nuclear weapons.

At every opportunity, we have urged countries to turn their backs on nuclear weapons and have used our own example to show that national security and influence in the world are not dependent on their possession. We are proud to have good relations with all our neighbours and all the major powers. They have all given their support to the decision, at our initiative, for Central Asia to declare itself a nuclear-weapons-free-zone.

But while the agreement to set up the LEU Bank and the successful conclusion of the talks over Iran’s nuclear ambitions are major steps in the right direction, we must waste no time in building on this progress. We need to put the Iran agreement into action. Those countries yet to sign and ratify the CTBT must do so as soon as possible. The Non-Proliferation Treaty must itself be modernised and expanded so all nations are covered by its obligations.

This week’s ceremony in Astana will be attended by representatives of a number of countries advancing the cause of non-proliferation and peaceful nuclear energy, including Norway, the UAE, Kuwait, the EU and the US. It is a celebration of what can be achieved with vision, commitment and good will. But it is the beginning not the end. Only by relentlessly showing these same qualities can we truly reduce the threat of nuclear weapons to all our lives and planet.

The author is foreign minister of Kazakhstan.

http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2015/08/26/kazakhstan-encouraging-civilian-nuclear-energy-with-security-in-mind/

 

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