UN Officials Urge Global Ban on Nuclear Tests
October 12, 2013
United Nations News Centre & The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
United Nations senior officials have repeated their call on Member States to take action to ban nuclear testing, stressing their horrific effects on human lives and the environment. The UN General Assembly will hold its first-ever high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament this week. The meeting is a recognition by the international community that nuclear weapons remain an existential threat to humankind.
Citing 'Horrific' Human, Environmental Effects,
UN Officials Urge Global Ban on Nuclear Tests
United Nations News Centre
"Campaigners like me, from all around the world, are demanding action to finally achieve the outlawing and elimination of nuclear weapons. It is time. It is time to change the status quo. It is time we ban nuclear weapons."
-- Nosizwe Baqwa of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, in a statement delivered at the High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations on September 26.
"There are no good nuclear weapons and no right hands for them, just as there are no good chemical or biological weapons. The nuclear deterrence policies, belied in large measure by first-use doctrines, are predicated on the willingness and capacity to inflict genocidal or omnicidal destruction."
-- Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee, in a statement delivered to the High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations on September 26.
NEW YORK (September 5, 2013) -- United Nations senior officials today repeated their call on Member States to take action to ban nuclear testing, stressing their horrific effects on human lives and the environment.
"We should all remember the terrible toll of nuclear tests," Mr. Ban said in his message to the General Assembly on the fourth observance of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. "It is time to address the horrific human and environmental effects of nuclear tests through a global ban, the most reliable means to meet these challenges."
The International Day highlights the efforts of the UN and a growing community of advocates, including Member States, non-governmental organizations, academia, and media, in raising awareness of the importance of the nuclear test ban.
The General Assembly chose 29 August as the annual commemoration date since it marks the day in 1991 when Semipalatinsk, one of the largest test sites in the world and located in north-eastern Kazakhstan, was closed permanently. The body held an informal session today, under the theme "The Path to Zero," giving Member States the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.
"A total of 456 nuclear tests were carried at Semipalatinsk since the first explosion there more than 64 years ago. Nearly one and a half million people were affected by the consequences of nuclear testing, and an immense territory has been contaminated with radiation," Mr. Ban said.
"Today, 183 countries have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and 159 have ratified it. I once again urge all States to sign and ratify the CTBT without further delay. Eight States whose ratifications are necessary for the Treaty to enter into force have a special responsibility: China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States."
President of the United Nations General Assembly Vuk Jeremic joined Mr. Ban's call to Member States, and encouraged them to participate in the first high-level meeting of the General Assembly on nuclear disarmament, which will take place later this month.
Mr. Jeremic recalled the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki noting that "what happened there is a permanent reminder of the horrible, unmatched devastation caused by the use of nuclear weapons. Any test, conducted by anyone anywhere, increases the likelihood they will be used again one day."
"There are some who see nothing wrong with stockpiling atomic bombs that can destroy entire cities in a heartbeat. Let them go to Hiroshima; let them stand before the cenotaph -- the sombre monument to the victims of an unparalleled calamity inflicted by the hand of man," he said.
Also addressing the meeting was Geoffrey Shaw, representative of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the UN, who highlighted the agency's key role in verifying the compliance of States with their commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear material under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
"By doing so, the IAEA has made an important contribution to global efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons," he said, specifically noting that IAEA safeguards in connection with NPT commitments comprise measures by which the Agency independently verifies the correctness and the completeness of the declarations made by States about their nuclear material and activities.
Mr. Shaw also noted that the IAEA continues to assist States to characterize residual radioactivity in areas affected by nuclear weapons tests to assess whether the safe use of such land is possible, or whether remedial actions are needed.
As an example, he said that for many years, the IAEA assisted the Government of Kazakhstan to assess the radiological contamination of territories affected by nuclear tests at the Semipalatinsk site. And the IAEA will continue to support Kazakhstan in these endeavours.
A new technical cooperation project started in 2012 focused on strengthening national capabilities for radio-ecological studies to support assessing the feasibility of releasing parts of the Semipalatinsk Test Site to normal economic use.
Vladimir Bozhko, Minister for Emergency Situations of Kazakhstan, stressed that observance of the International Day questions the legitimacy of nuclear tests and weapons in military, political and security doctrines.
"It highlights their catastrophic humanitarian consequences on human wellbeing, health, the genetics of survivors, as well as impact on the world's climate and food production and water supply," he said, adding that the devastating explosive blasts, direct nuclear radiation, thermal radiation and fall-out have make the full rehabilitation of people and environment nearly impossible.
As such, he said that the International Day "is not just a day to remember, [but] a day to act" and called for a "disarmament race" bolstered by bolt multilateral action to not only diminish but completely wipe out the threats posed by nuclear weapons.
It is yet unclear whether implementation of the transparency commitments agreed upon within the NPT would represent the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons. But at the very least, increased transparency will make it easier to discuss further steps toward nuclear disarmament as well as a fissile material cut-off treaty, and in the longer run, transparency in regard to nuclear weapons arsenals can help to ensure a safer world for all states.
Transparency: The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons?
Henrik Salander, Arend J. Meerburg, Miguel Marín Bosch, Paul Meyer, Zia Mian / The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
(September 24, 2013) -- The United Nations General Assembly will hold its first-ever high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament this week. The meeting is a recognition by the international community that nuclear weapons remain an existential threat to humankind. And in theory, humankind knows precisely how to deal with nuclear weapons: They must never be used; they must not proliferate to new states; and they must be prohibited and eliminated over the long term. Otherwise, they will eventually be used again.
But why don’t states act on this acknowledged reality?
There are a few good signs. The United States and Russia, who hold more than 16,000 of the estimated 17,000 or so nuclear warheads in the world, have reduced their arsenals considerably. International collaboration on nuclear security is improving.
The norm against nuclear testing is strong, and in regard to the actual use of nuclear weapons, the global norm is extremely strong. Also, the debate on nuclear armaments and deterrence has changed for the better -- the concept of a nuclear weapon-free world has gained some ground, at least as a topic for analysis and a serious goal.
But non-nuclear weapon states see negative developments, as well. Weapons reductions are uneven and unpredictable; some nuclear weapon states are not pursuing them at all. No test ban for nuclear weapons is in force. Alert and readiness levels for weapons carriers and warheads are still dangerously high. No negotiations on prohibiting production of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons are under way, or even on the horizon, in spite of repeated undertakings to that end.
In addition, no serious multilateral discussions for nuclear disarmament are taking place. This means that Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-based agreements and promises are continuously being broken. Nuclear weapon states are preparing large modernization projects. Last but not least, transparency on holdings of nuclear weapons and fissile material is poor.
This last point may sound less sinister than the other trends and threats. It underscores, however, how very little non-nuclear weapon states know about the plans and capacities of those that possess nuclear weapons.
Disadvantaged by this information gap, non-nuclear weapon states may understandably assume that the nuclear weapon states plan to retain their monopoly on ultra-violence for the foreseeable future. The logical conclusion, for a few countries at least, may be that they need to acquire their own nuclear weapons.
But the arsenals of the nuclear weapon states don’t have to be opaque. Transparency, actually, is in the interest of states with and without nuclear weapons and is the best way to build accountability and mutual confidence. Confidence about the size and scope of other states’ armaments and accountability (i.e., the ability to monitor any changes in arsenal size and capability) is vitally important for all states, regardless of whether they plan to keep their nuclear arms or want the weapons of other nations eliminated.
Confidence and accountability -- brought about by reliable public information about the size and make-up of nuclear arsenals and stockpiles of weapons-usable material -- may be the only way to make sure that the quest for nuclear deterrence does not get out of hand.
The Need for Reporting Standards
The need for transparency has been recognized, at least formally. In 2010, during the most recent NPT review conference, treaty members agreed to an action plan on nuclear disarmament that includes (as Action 21) the nuclear weapon states agreeing to construct a common reporting standard that would make it possible to evaluate progress on reductions of nuclear arsenals and establish a mechanism for confidence-building.
The nuclear weapon states have discussed the possibilities for such a reporting regime among themselves without revealing the results. More publicly, several non-weapon states and some non-governmental organizations (including the International Panel on Fissile Materials, of which the authors of this piece are all members) have presented draft reporting outlines to fulfill the 2010 agreements.
To reach a generally accepted reporting standard will not be easy. An unusual level of cooperation between nuclear weapon states will be required. They will have to find solutions for many political and legal problems that are highly sensitive for all nuclear-weapon states. But similar problems have been resolved in the past, and all NPT states party are committed to realizing this goal.
Progress toward transparency could start in different ways. There is already openness to build on, especially between the United States and Russia, but also among other NPT nuclear-weapon states. They have all released information about their production and stocks of both warheads and fissile material for weapons, although in varying degrees of detail.
Four of them have reduced their stockpiles of nuclear warheads, formally ended their production of fissile material for weapons, and publicly declared a moratorium on future production. The fifth, China, has not produced any such material for about 25 years.
Further progress on openness will be a slow and deliberate process, but handled cooperatively and constructively, it will build trust and accountability over many years.
As a start, the International Panel on Fissile Materials proposes in the forthcoming Global Fissile Material Report 2013 that the nuclear weapon states publish and annually update the total numbers of nuclear weapons in their arsenal; their holdings of highly enriched uranium and plutonium; and the portions of their stockpiles of weapons-usable material available for monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This level of reporting would be a minimum, which could be broken down in more detail by weapon states willing to do so.
As a natural next step, the nuclear weapon states could establish detailed public baselines for their arsenals that would help to verify further reductions in nuclear weapons. A commitment to such further common action could be undertaken at the next review conference of the NPT in 2015, where the nuclear weapon states could commit to develop and publish information on the histories of their nuclear warhead and fissile material stockpiles.
Such records would include the numbers of warheads constructed, retired, and dismantled on a yearly basis, as well as production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium and information on the use and disposition of both materials. Reports of actions and plans for conversion and decommissioning of production facilities should also be included.
These records should be progressively refined, preserved, and kept open for all states to study. Every step in such a transparency program would start on a fully voluntary basis and then be developed multilaterally into more formal and detailed transparency commitments.
Transparency: A Strategic Interest of All
Why should the present nuclear weapon states bother to reveal data on the size and constitution of their nuclear arsenals and fissile material stockpiles, a process that requires the development of complicated procedures and could be criticized internally as jeopardizing national security?
The answer is simple: It is in their strategic interest to do so. These processes build confidence over time -- and not only among the nuclear weapon states. They also help assure the non-weapon states that the nuclear weapons states are in fact reducing their arsenals and moving toward abolition.
In addition, a process of this or a similar kind will facilitate achieving a goal that has so far eluded the parties to the NPT, nuclear and non-nuclear alike, namely regular reporting by the nuclear weapon states, which was first promised at the 2000 NPT review conference but hasn’t yet materialized.
There are a number of other things that the non-nuclear weapon states want from weapons possessors. Along with reductions in numbers of nuclear weapons, they want a genuine devaluing of those weapons.
The non-nuclear-weapon countries want changes in doctrines concerning the use of nuclear weapons, and honest preparations for a disarmament process that would include development of verification and control methods, changes in laws, creation of government units tasked with analysis of disarmament requirements, and so forth.
While waiting for these complementary measures, non-nuclear weapon states would genuinely welcome and support a concerted effort towards increased transparency and accountability by the nuclear weapon states.
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