International Day Against Nuclear Tests

On September 6, the General Assembly convened an informal session to observe the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 2009 and is officially recognized on August 29 of every year.  Much of the meeting was dedicated towards remembering the victims of nuclear testing, particularly those living near the Semipalatinsk test site.  Additionally, there were numerous statements of support for CTBT entry into force, as well as calls for nuclear weapons states to maintain the de facto moratorium on nuclear testing.

The meeting began with a recorded address from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who reiterated his support, and the international community’s need, for entry into force of the CTBT.  He attempted to address concerns about the CTBTO’s technical capabilities when he said, “I reiterate my standing offer to visit the capital of any State that remains unconvinced about the reliability of the Treaty’s monitoring and inspection systems to answer questions and resolve their concerns.”

Russia called the treaty, “A cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  We’re convinced that there are risks to this regime, including regional ones, and they should be eliminated on the basis of the CTBTO.”

While both the United States and the European Union made remarks supporting the entry into force of the CTBT, two Annex 2 states made statements that cast doubt on the likelihood of that occurrence.  Both North Korea and Iran decried the use of subcritical and computer-modeling testing by the United States in particular.  The representative from North Korea summed up his views when he stated, “And it is the reality that nuclear weapons states’ nuclear test sites are still standing intact, ready to go into action at any time.  And particularly one state is undertaking subcritical nuclear tests, every year, two or three times.”

The International Day Against Nuclear Tests was created by UN General Assembly Resolution 64/35 in 2009 by unanimous adoption.  The Republic of Kazakhstan, home to the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site (see image left) where 456 nuclear test explosions were conducted by the Soviet Union until 1990, initiated the resolution.  Inhabitants of the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan, as well as inhabitants of the regions surrounding other nuclear test sites, such as the Marshall Islands, the Nevada Test Site, French Polynesia, and the other 50 plus test sites in the world, have experienced elevated cancer rates, birth defects and reduced life expectancy.  By bringing international attention to this issue, the International Day Against Nuclear Tests attempts to deter any future attempts to resume nuclear testing.

The theme throughout the UN General Assembly informal session, as well as the Nuclear Safe World Conference in Kazakhstan, was the need to transform the de facto moratorium on nuclear testing into the legally binding global test ban.