Marking the International Day against Nuclear Tests

The International Day against Nuclear Tests commemorates the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site in Kazakhstan on 29 August 1991. It’s a day to remember the victims and survivors of nuclear testing, as well as of the legacy impacts of the production of nuclear weapons, including nuclear waste. It’s also a day to reiterate the demands of the majority of the world’s governments and people to end nuclear testing forever and outlaw nuclear weapons.

Like many other non-governmental organizations, WILPF has sought a universal ban on nuclear weapons testing since the first test was conducted in Almogordo, New Mexico on 16 July 1945. However, we oppose not just nuclear weapons testing, but also the design, development, modernization, financing, deployment, and possession of nuclear weapons. Together with our partners in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), we are calling for the negotiation of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

WILPF supported the negotiations of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, the CTBT does not expressly forbid qualitative improvements to nuclear weapons through subcritical testing and other means. Since 1997, the United States has carried out over 20 subcritical nuclear tests at its Nevada Test Site. This loophole has meant that nuclear weapon states are able to undermine the CTBT’s stated objectives of disarmament and the prevention of further nuclear weapon modernisation and subsequent arms races. Furthermore, 18 years after the CTBT was adopted, significant obstacles remain on the path to its entry into force. Our 2012 report on government positions on the CTBT highlights why entry into force of the treaty should not be treated as a precondition to nuclear disarmament or to the commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

On the occasion of the first International Day against Nuclear Tests, 29 August 2009, the government of Kazakhstan made an important proposal: the establishment of an international fund to support the survivors of nuclear testing. WILPF supported this call then and now and calls upon the UN Secretary-General to help mobilise 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 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.

To support such efforts, a treaty banning nuclear weapons could also recognise the responsibilities of states to ensure the rights of victims of nuclear weapon use or testing, require decontamination and remediation of affected areas, and provide for cooperation and assistance to meet these obligations.

Nuclear testing and the production, possession, and deployment of nuclear weapons should be relegated to history. 69 years after the first nuclear test, it’s time to ban the bomb.