Nuclear testing disastrous for people and planet

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Events commemorating the recent International Day against Nuclear Tests are an “important and stark reminder of the disastrous consequences of nuclear testing on human health and the environment”, a senior UN official told the General Assembly.

Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) hoped the day would “inspire countries to take concrete measures to finally reach our objective of a world free from the dangers of nuclear testing”, noting there needed to be an “unmistakable message our work is not yet done”.

He was jointly awarded the Nazarbayev Prize for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World and Global Security, together with the late Yukiya Amano, calling his co-recipient “a champion for the peaceful use of nuclear energy”.

“The only path to this noble goal is through the verifiability of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and its universalisation”, Zerbo said.

The CTBT chief praised the “historic decision” by Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to renounce nuclear arms, send the country’s nuclear warheads to Russia, and permanently close the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. He said Nazarbayev “understood there was more to gain from denuclearising than going forward as a nuclear possessor State”.

Treaty of Rarotonga

Noting a visit to Tuvalu, he recalled 35 years ago the 15th South Pacific Forum decided a nuclear free zone should be established in the South Pacific.

Today the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone, or Treaty of Rarotonga, prohibits possession, use, testing or stationing of nuclear weapons by any country and embodies “the determination of a local population, represented by sovereign States, to live in peace and independence and protect their people and environment” Zerbo said.

Bringing the CTBT into force and fulfilling the overarching objective of the International Day against Nuclear Tests will require concerted and sustained efforts from scientists, diplomats, politicians, academics, the media and all civil society “at every step”, he said.

Nuclear terrorism

The risk of nuclear proliferation and threat of nuclear terrorism poses challenges for the international community.

To guarantee continued viability of nuclear power for peace and development, “we must reinforce and build on the legal framework established to keep nuclear risks low, while ensuring countries continue to benefit from peaceful use of nuclear energy” he added.

Nuclear testing ‘simply not acceptable’

Secretary-General António Guterres noted the day, which in 1991 marked closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, served two purposes: “First, to pay tribute to victims of nuclear tests and second, to raise awareness of the continued threat nuclear tests pose to the environment and international security”.

Over the last seven decades about 2,000 nuclear tests have been carried out, “unleashing a terrible toll”, the UN chief said, devastating “pristine environments and local populations around the world”.

“People from regions including the South Pacific, North America and North Africa suffered from poisoned groundwater, radioactive fallout and other effects on health and living conditions.”

Acknowledging significant progress in banning nuclear tests, Guterres said the day was “a reminder of our moral obligation to ensure a legally binding prohibition on nuclear weapons”.

The CTBT cannot enter into force until it has been signed and ratified by China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel North Korea Pakistan and the United States, each of which possessed nuclear power or research reactors at the time of the 1996 Conference on Disarmament.

“I again call on all States to sign and ratify the CTBT without further delay and for the remaining eight States to do so with a sense of urgency”, the Secretary-General said adding “In the 21st century nuclear testing is simply not acceptable”.