In 2009, the United Nations declared August 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35 at the 64th session of the UN General Assembly. Dr Kate Dewes, Professor Davianna Pomaika’i McGregor, Ms Rhea Moss-Christian, and Mr Alimzhan Akhmetov share their thoughts on the dangers of nuclear testing and the significance of this day.
Dr Kate Dewes
Former director of the Christchurch Disarmament and Security Centre, and former member of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters.
Since 1945 there have been over 2000 nuclear tests worldwide, including many in our Asia Pacific region. The International Day against Nuclear Tests provides a vital opportunity to educate the complacent international community that despite the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) there have been 10 nuclear tests by India, Pakistan and the DPRK, and 8 recalcitrant states are preventing it coming into force. The United States, Russia and China continue with subcritical tests and last year the Trump administration debated whether to restart testing. Despite 185 states signing the CTBT and the reduction of nuclear weapons to 13,080, most nuclear weapon states are modernising their arsenals to make weapons more ‘usable’.
French President Macron recently visited Tahiti and acknowledged responsibility for the health and environmental effects of the 193 nuclear tests that France carried out in French Polynesia over 30 years from 1966-1996. The recent scientific report (Moruroa Files) confirmed extensive contamination in the archipelago.
I witnessed euphoria among the 122 non-nuclear negotiating states when the UN adopted the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which prohibits most nuclear activities including testing. Article 6 requires states parties to provide victim assistance and help with environmental remediation. Even though the nuclear weapon states and their allies did not attend the negotiations, the challenge now is to convince all states to comply with the TPNW.
Ms Rhea Moss-Christian
Chairman of the National Nuclear Commission, the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI).
On May 5, 1954, the Marshallese people submitted a petition to the United Nations Secretary General requesting that “experiments with lethal weapons” be immediately ceased in their islands. The United States’ (US) detonation of the world’s most powerful nuclear device two months prior on March 1, 1954, at Bikini Atoll had a devastating impact on people from neighboring atolls who began suffering from sudden and unknown illnesses, with no information about what was happening to their bodies. The petition also sounded the alarm on the removal of people from their ancestral land to accommodate the scope of the US nuclear weapons testing program that began in the RMI in 1946. Even after the petition was submitted, the US nuclear weapons testing program continued for a further three years in the Marshall Islands.
The International Day against Nuclear Tests is a reminder of the destruction that communities such as those in the Marshall Islands continue to grapple with as a result of the US nuclear weapons tests. Nuclear states need to do better in removing the threat of nuclear weapons to our global health and environment, and this can be advanced by bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force without further delay.
Professor Davianna Pomaika’i McGregor
Professor of Ethnic Studies, Director, Center for Oral History, University of Hawai’i, Manoa.
The former United States National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, is infamously known to have said, “There are only 90,000 people out there. Who gives a damn?” when asked about the devastation caused by the nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands. So, when we reflect upon the abhorrent testing of nuclear weapons throughout the Pacific, we also need to call out the racial extremism that has underpinned these weapons’ programs, as epitomized in Kissinger’s callous statement.
Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 23 nuclear tests, notoriously displacing islanders who inhabited them across centuries. The Castle Bravo test of March 1, 1954 exposed the islanders of Rongelap, Rongerik and Utrik, and the Lucky Dragon fisherfolk to extreme radiation, pain, illness, death and generational birth defects. France tested 193 nuclear weapons at Muroroa and Fangatufa between 1966 and 1996 exposing 110,000 Tahitians to radioactive fallout. French agents bombed Greenpeace International’s Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor on its voyage to courageously protest the nuclear testing.
At the same time, one is also reminded of the vigorous inspirational movement of Pacific Islanders and allies in the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific that eventually prevailed, stopping Pacific testing and then working tirelessly to heal the countless victims. Let us summon their courage and determination as we continue the struggle to end nuclear testing and confront the long-term damage and climate change caused by those tests.
Mr Alimzhan Akhmetov
Founder-Director of the Center for International Security and Policy, Kazakhstan.
On the initiative of Kazakhstan, since 2009, August 29 is marked as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. On this day in 1991, one of the largest nuclear test sites of the world was closed in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, where over 450 nuclear explosions had thundered at the very heart of Eurasia.
This year is significant not only as the 30th anniversary of the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site, but also for the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) – the first international treaty prohibiting these inhuman weapons. My organization has surveyed the villages around the former test site for three years in a row, to meet people who have suffered from the nuclear tests: a grandmother tells us about her two-year-old grandson who was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease; a father talks of his young son’s suicide; we met a little girl born with 4 fingers missing on her left hand. The medical certificates plainly read: ‘the disease is associated with exposure to ionizing radiation.’ Despite the fiery speeches and dozen UN resolutions, the world is not free from nuclear weapons. If we really want to help those who have suffered from these tests, we have to ensure that this suffering doesn’t ever happen again.
Image: The Official CTBTO Photostream