International Day Against Nuclear Tests: Translating Words Into Action

By Susi Snyder

On behalf of the many nongovernmental organizations with an interest in ending nuclear testing and achieving a nuclear weapons free world, I would like to thank the organizers of this year’s meeting—including the office of the United Nations Secretary General and the Foreign Ministry of Kazakhstan—for granting NGOs a seat at this table.

It is important to recognize the pivotal role of nongovernmental organizations—and ordinary people the world over—in the long struggle to end nuclear testing.

For example, beginning in the 1950s, American pediatricians and civil society activists documented the presence of strontium-90 in the deciduous teeth of young children, prompting a large and effective public outcry against atmospheric nuclear testing. These protests had a direct impact on the negotiation and adoption of the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

In fact, civil society organizations have played a vital role in ensuring that the evidence compiled by physicians and scientists about the health and environmental consequences of nuclear test explosions—regardless of whether they are conducted in the atmosphere or aboveground—has consistently been put forward as an essential reason to ban testing permanently.

Nongovernmental organizations played a catalyzing role in more recent efforts to halt nuclear testing. Some twenty years ago, a popular movement in Soviet-controlled Kazakhstan forced Moscow’s communist regime to halt nuclear weapons testing at proving grounds in their homeland where more than 456 explosions had contaminated the land and its people.

In February 1989, the renowned poet Olzhas Suleimenov called upon his fellow citizens to meet in Alma Ata to discuss how to respond to fresh reports of radioactive contamination at the Soviet’s Semipalatinsk Test Site. Five-thousand people responded and collectively issued a call for closing the test site, ending nuclear weapons production, and a universal ban on testing. The movement, which became known as Nevada-Semipalatinsk, grew and held demonstrations throughout Kazakhstan and later in Russia.

On August 6, 1989, 50,000 people attended one of its rallies, which was the largest independent event of its type in the former Soviet Union. Eventually over a million people signed its antinuclear weapons testing petition.

In August 1989, Suleimenov pushed the Supreme Soviet to adopt a resolution calling for a U.S.-Soviet test moratorium. The movement also worked to prevent Moscow from simply shifting all Soviet nuclear testing to the Novaya Zemlya site in northern Russia. To appease the growing protests, Moscow would later acknowledge it had cancelled 11 out of 18 planned nuclear tests.

In May 1990, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement teamed up for an International Citizens Congress that brought together 300 delegates, including downwinders and disarmament leaders, from 25 countries to Alma Ata. A crowd of 20,000 gathered in support. Before the conference convened, Dr. Bernard Lown of IPPNW and Suleimenov met with Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze to reinstitute an earlier Soviet test moratorium.

Under pressure from President Nazarbayev, the people of Kazakhstan, and the international disarmament community, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would authorize only one more test (in Russia) and then declare a moratorium on October 5, 1991, prompting U.S. legislators to introduce nuclear test moratorium legislation in Congress.

With strong grassroots support in the United States, the legislation, which mandated a 9-month U.S. testing halt and negotiations on a CTBT, gathered strong support and was approved in September 1992. The last U.S. nuclear test explosion was conducted on September 23, 1992.

The following year, U.S. nongovernmental organizations and legislators successfully pressed President Clinton to indefinitely extend the U.S. test moratorium in July 1993 and launch multilateral negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. With the help of international protests over French and Chinese nuclear testing in 1995 and 1996, NGOs exerted strong pressure on governments negotiating the treaty at the Conference on Disarmament to pursue a zero-yield test ban and to complete talks by the end of 1996.

The actions of the people of Kazakhstan and other test ban opponents are but one dramatic example of how leaders from civil society have raised awareness about the dangers of nuclear weapons and demanded that their governments act decisively to permanently halt nuclear weapons testing.

As we mark the second official International Day Against Nuclear Tests, we should recognize the courageous efforts of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement and generations of other citizen activists and leaders, which have been the driving force behind governmental effort to permanently and verifiably bring an end to all nuclear test explosions.
The Tasks Ahead
Although the CTBT was opened for signature fifteen years ago this month, our work is far from complete.

We representatives of civil society call upon leading governments to:

1) redouble their stalled efforts to push for a permanent and verifiable end to nuclear testing;
2) improve national and international programs to better understand and responsibly address the health and environmental damage caused by past nuclear testing; and
3) take further steps to reinforce the purposes of the CTBT and move with greater speed to realize a world without nuclear weapons.
The International Security Value of the CTBT
It is time to finally recognize that nuclear testing is a dangerous and unnecessary vestige of the past and, fifteen years after its completion, finally bring the CTBT into force.

As General John Shalikashvili, the former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded in 2001: “For the sake of future generations, it would be unforgivable to neglect any reasonable action that can help prevent nuclear proliferation, as the Test Ban Treaty clearly would.”

By banning all nuclear weapon test explosions, the CTBT prevents the established nuclear-weapon states from proof-testing new, more sophisticated warhead designs. Without the option of nuclear explosive testing, newer members of the club cannot perfect smaller, more easily deliverable warheads.

Unfortunately, the CTBT does not also expressly forbid other activities that can lead to qualitative improvements to nuclear weapons, the pursuit of which undermines the stated objectives of the treaty.

The CTBT also serves to reinforce the nonproliferation system by serving as a confidence-building measure about a state’s nuclear intentions and, in this regard, it can help head-off and de-escalate regional tensions.

For these and other reasons, CTBT entry into force has long been considered a key part of the fulfillment of Article VI of the NPT and the goal of “effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

With the CTBT in force, global and national capabilities to detect and deter possible clandestine nuclear testing by other states will be significantly greater. Entry-into-force is essential to making short-notice, on-site inspections possible and maintaining long-term political and financial support from other nations for the operation of the International Monitoring System and International Data Center.
Accelerating Entry Into Force
Although 182 states have signed the CTBT, the treaty must still be ratified by the remaining hold out states—the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, and North Korea—before it can formally enter into force.

In three weeks, CTBT states parties will gather here at the UN to speak about the value of the treaty and the need for prompt entry into force. We appreciate those statements, but actions speak louder than words. That conference must help produce a serious diplomatic action plan for getting the remaining hold out states on board.

Ratification by the United States and China is particularly important. Given their existing nuclear test moratoria and 1996 signature of the CTBT, Washington and Beijing already bear most CTBT-related responsibilities, yet their failure to ratify has denied them—and others—the full security benefits of CTBT entry into force.

In April 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledged to “immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.” He said, “After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.” We agree.

But now, President Obama must translate those lofty words into action and mount a serious public campaign to win the support of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate for ratification of the treaty without conditions.

To date, the Obama administration has done too little. With the support of a wide array of NGOs in the United States and around the globe the Obama administration can and must make the case that the Treaty enhances international security, is effectively verifiable, and is essential to curb the spread of nuclear weapons in the decades to come.

To indicate the seriousness of his intention to do so, we call on President Obama to promptly name a senior, high-level White House coordinator for the CTBT effort.

The technical and political case for the CTBT is even stronger than it was in 1999 when the Senate failed to provide its advice and consent for ratification. What is necessary is the political will to pursue ratification and willingness by all Senators to review the new evidence in support of the treaty rather than arrive at judgments based on old information or misinformation.

It is also time for China’s leaders to finally act on the CTBT. For years, Chinese government representatives have reported that the CTBT is before the National People’s Congress for consideration but has apparently taken no action to win legislative approval needed for ratification. We note the January 19, 2011 Joint Statement by President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama stating that “… both sides support early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.”

Washington’s renewed pursuit of CTBT ratification opens up opportunities for China and other Annex 2 states—such as Indonesia—to lead the way toward entry into force by ratifying before the United States does. Action by Beijing would increase its credibility as a nonproliferation leader and improve the chances that other states in Asia, as well as the United States, would follow suit.

India and Pakistan could advance the cause of nuclear disarmament and substantially ease regional tensions by converting their unilateral test moratoria into a legally binding commitment to end nuclear testing through the CTBT.

Unfortunately, since their tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998 that were condemned by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1172, neither India nor Pakistan have transformed their de facto nuclear test moratorium into a legally binding commitment not to conduct nuclear test explosions.

It is past time for India’s current leaders to pursue the recommendations of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s eloquent and visionary 1988 action plan for disarmament, which calls for “a moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons … to set the stage for negotiations on a comprehensive test-ban treaty.” India’s security and that of Asia would be enhanced if New Delhi were to seek adoption of the CTBT along with its nuclear-armed Asian neighbors. Pakistan, which can ill-afford the expensive and senseless continuation of its fissile and missile race with India, should welcome a legally binding test ban with India.

With no shortage of conflict and hostility in the Middle East, ratification by Israel, Egypt and Iran would reduce nuclear-weapons-related security concerns in the region. It would also help create the conditions necessary for the realization of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Likewise, if Israel were to ratify the CTBT, it would bring that nation closer to the nuclear nonproliferation mainstream and help encourage other states in the region to follow suit.

Iranian ratification would help reduce concerns that its nuclear program could be used to develop and deploy deliverable nuclear warheads. Continued failure by Iran to ratify the CTBT raises further questions about the nature of its sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities.

The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests and rumors of further detonations undermine Asian security. We call on the DPRK to declare a halt to further nuclear testing pending the resumption of the Six-Party talks and for the participants in those talks to make North Korea’s approval of the CTBT one of the key steps in the action-for-action process for denuclearization and normalization.
Addressing the Damage Caused by Nuclear Testing
Radioactive isotopes have long half-lives. The damage caused by the 2,051 nuclear test explosions conducted worldwide lingers on at dozens of test sites from Lop Nor, to the atolls of the Pacific, to Nevada, to Algeria, to Australia, to Semipalatinsk, across Russia, in Kazakhstan and beyond.

Exposure to ionizing radiation is harmful to humans. The leaders of the nuclear testing nations have exposed their people – both within their territories and outside their territories – to radiation without their informed consent.

Most of the test sites are in the lands of indigenous peoples and far from the capitals of the testing governments. The 528 atmospheric tests delivered radioactive materials that produced approximately 430,000 additional cancer fatalities by the year 2000, according to a 1990 report by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The U.S. National Cancer Institute estimated in a 1997 report that the 90 dirtiest U.S. tests could cause 7,500-75,000 additional cases of thyroid cancer.

While underground nuclear blasts pose a smaller radioactive hazard than atmospheric tests, there has been widespread venting from underground explosions, especially at the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan. The United States has acknowledged that 433 of its 824 underground tests released radioactive material into the atmosphere. In addition, underground nuclear blasts leave a legacy of radioactive contamination, which eventually might leak into the surrounding environment.

Our knowledge of the extent of the harm caused by five decades of nuclear test explosions underground, in the atmosphere, and underwater is still incomplete. The governments responsible for the damage have not adequately provided the assistance to survivors and resources necessary to mitigate the environmental contamination. In fact, the major testing states have been reluctant to recognize the harm inflicted by testing and the rights of those people who have been most affected.

For example, for more than thirty years, France conducted 46 atmospheric and 147 underground nuclear tests in the South Pacific at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in French Polynesia. It is estimated that nearly half of France’s underground nuclear tests released radioactive material into the atmosphere.

Today, there are lingering concerns over hazards to the environment and the health of local populations. Beyond the presence of plutonium and cesium on land and in the lagoon, as reported by the IAEA in 1998, ongoing monitoring of the geology of Moruroa Atoll has revealed major hazards on the north-east flank of the atoll. There were 28 underground tests in this north-east sector, with six tests releasing radioactivity into the ocean environment through cracks in the basalt base of the atoll.

A January 2011 report by the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) outlines scenarios where a landslide of the side of the atoll – amounting to 670 million cubic meters of rock – could create a 15 to 20 meter high wave and swamp the east of the atoll. The collapse would also send out waves forming a 10 to 13 meter tsunami, which could threaten the neighboring inhabited island of Tureia.

Maohi (Polynesian) workers who staffed the Moruroa and Fangataufa test sites from 1966 to 1996 have formed “Moruroa e Tatou” (Moruroa and Us), an association to campaign for compensation from the Government of France for the health effects of their work. They have joined with former French military personnel who are members of the Association des Veterans des Essais Nucleaires in France (Association of Nuclear Test Veterans), to campaign for compensation for the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.

Although the French government established a compensation scheme known as the Morin law in 2010, veterans groups have criticized the way the law is being implemented. (Of the first 12 cases by French military veterans put before the committee which runs the compensation scheme, only one was granted compensation). Living many thousands of miles away from France, Maohi workers often lack the necessary documentation and resources to mount their case for compensation, with many of the archives remaining closed under national security regulations.

On the occasion of the first International Day against Nuclear Tests the government of Kazakhstan made an important proposal: the establishment of an international fund—to be managed by the United Nations—to support the survivors of nuclear testing.

We endorse this idea and call upon the UN Secretary-General to organize a conference under the auspices of the United Nations to help mobilize resources for the remediation of contamination and health monitoring and rehabilitation of downwinders near nuclear test sites around the world.

States responsible for the testing at major test sites should report to the conference—and on an annual basis every year thereafter—on their current and future efforts and resource allocations to address the health and environmental impacts of nuclear testing and to rehabilitate populations that have been particularly impacted.

Independent nongovernmental experts, and especially members of affected communities should be invited to participate help develop a multi-year program of action. Many nuclear testing survivors are minorities on the own land whose views have too often been overlooked. That must no longer be the case.

Reinforcing the Test Ban
We must also guard against actions by the nuclear weapon states and would-be nuclear weapon states that could undermine the de facto test moratorium and slow entry into force of the CTBT. Specifically:

a) We urge states armed with nuclear weapons to refrain from pursuing new types of nuclear weapons or modifying weapons to create new military capabilities through testing or in the laboratory.

The Obama administration declared in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report that “The United States will not develop new nuclear warheads. Life Extension Programs [LEPs] will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.” However, there is a potential loophole. As noted by Thomas D’Agostino, the head of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration at an April 14, 2010 Congressional hearing, the NPR will allow the national nuclear weapons laboratories to “study all options for ensuring the safety, security, and effectiveness of our nuclear warheads, and we’ll do so on a case-by-case basis.”

In addition, the multibillion dollar U.S. warhead Life Extension Programs will, in some cases, result in warheads with greater accuracy on target. In addition, the LEPs may introduce new complexities that diminish confidence and increase the risk that some future president will be pressured to proof-test the modified design.

Other nuclear-armed nations have not even made “no new nuclear weapons pledges” and some are believed to be working on new warhead designs.
We urge responsible governments to seek clarification regarding their plans and to call upon them to halt the development of new nuclear warheads or modernization of existing warheads, delivery systems, or related infrastructure, for any reason. Such activities may not violate the letter of the CTBT, but they are contrary to one key purpose, which is to halt the qualitative improvement of nuclear arsenals;

b) We urge nuclear armed states to halt activities at the test sites, including so-called subcritical experiments, which might raise concerns about compliance with the CTBT or could undermine the purpose of the treaty by facilitating qualitative improvements in nuclear weapons;

c) The five original nuclear weapon states should reiterate that the CTBT bars all nuclear explosions of any yield, anywhere, and adopt transparency measures prior to entry into force that would increase confidence that they are in full compliance with the CTBT prohibition on all nuclear test explosions; and

d) We call upon all states to fully pay their assessments to the CTBTO, fully assist with work to complete the IMS systems, and continuously and without interruption transmit data from the monitoring stations to provide the most robust capability to detect and deter future nuclear testing; and

e) In order to further reinforce the de facto global taboo against nuclear testing and deter any state from considering nuclear test explosions in the future, we call upon the UN Security Council to outline appropriate actions that would be considered in response to the resumption of nuclear testing by any state.

We sincerely urge you to take these ideas forward and to explore them at the seventh Article XIV Conference on Facilitating CTBT Entry Into Force on September 23.

Nongovernmental supporters of the CTBT the world over stand ready to contribute to the effort to bring the CTBT into force and address the deadly legacy of nuclear testing.

Thank you.

Dr. Rebecca Johnson,
Author of Unfinished Business: The Negotiation of the CTBT the End of Nuclear Testing (United Nations: 2009), and
Executive Director, Acronym Institute for Disarmament and Diplomacy

Dominique Lalanne, Co-Chair,
Armes Nucléaires STOP (France)

Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director,
Arms Control Association

Mary Dickson, a founder of
Downwinders United (United States)

Yasunari Fujimoto,  Secretary General,
Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (GENSUIKIN)

Paul F. Walker, Ph.D. Director, Security and Sustainability,
Global Green USA
(U.S. affilliate of Green Cross Intl., Mikhail Gorbachev, Founding Chairman)

Jonathan Granoff, President,
Global Security Institute

Christopher Thomas, Executive Director,
Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (United States)

Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, Program Director,
Hibakusha Stories

John Loretz, Program Director,
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
(Recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize)

John Burroughs,  Executive Director,
Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy

Aaron Tovish, International Director,
2020 Vision Campaign,
Mayors for Peace

Roland Pouira Oldham, President,
Moruroa e tatou (French Polynesia)

Irma Arguello, Chair and CEO,
Nonproliferation for Global Security Foundation (Argentina)

David Krieger, President,
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Patrice Bouveret,  Directeur
Observatoire des Armements/CDRPC (France)

Susi Snyder, Nuclear Disarmament Program Leader,
IKV Pax Christi (Netherlands)

Akira Kawasaki,  Executive Committee Member,
Peace Boat (Japan)

Ichiro Yuasa, President,
Peace Depot (Japan)

Peter Wilk, M.D., Executive Director,
Physicians for Social Responsibility (USA)

Jean-Pierre Dacheux, Co-Chair,
Pour la Maison de Vigilance (France)

Amb. Jayantha Dhanapala, President,
Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
(Recipient of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize)

Susan Shaer, Executive Director,
Women’s Action for New Directions

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom