Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan were the former Soviet republics that possessed nuclear weapons after the Soviet Union broke up. They "disavowed the nuclear legacy thrust upon by the split of the former Soviet Union.” In May 1992, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine agreed to dismantle their nuclear weapons and return them to Russia.

In the 1990s, after the break up of the Soviet Union, Russia's status as a nuclear power raised two major issues. First, the deactivation of nuclear weapons in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union caused a series of problems that affected primarily the civilian population. Second, the rate and conditions for reduction of Russia's nuclear arsenal were matters of heated debate among military and civilian policy makers in the mid-1990s. Some experts have argued that the nuclear treaties between the U.S. and Russia have made Russia's atomic weapons less secure because they have been handed over from military to civilian control. The break up of the Soviet Union in 1991changed geopolitical equation of the treaties. Where there was one country with nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union, now there were several. All battlefield nuclear weapons were returned to Russia in 1992 but Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan retained thousands of warheads for intercontinental ballistic missiles. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Under pressure form the United States and other countries, Belarus and Kazakhstan agreed to turnover their arsenals to Russia. Kazakhstan got rid of most of its nuclear weapons by shipping them to Russia, where they were destroyed (Russia met the terms of START I largely by eliminating missiles it inherited from Belarus, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan). It ridded itself of its last nuclear weapons in April 1995. *

In December 1993, Kazakhstan ratified the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In February 1994 it joined the International Agency of Atomic Energy. In July 1999, it signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test ban Treaty. In July 2000, the last testing equipment at Semipalatinsk was destroyed.

Nuclear Disarmament in Kazakhstan

Arsenal Size: Kazakhstan possesses no nuclear weapons. 2) Kazakhstan formerly had 1,410 Soviet strategic nuclear warheads placed on its territory and an undisclosed number of tactical nuclear weapons. 3) One of the Soviet Union's two major nuclear test sites was located at Semipalatinsk, where at least 460 nuclear tests took place. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) ~]

Progress in Disarmament: 1) Kazakhstan transferred all of its Soviet-era nuclear weapons to the Russian Federation by April 1995. 2) As part of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program the United States assisted Kazakhstan in removing 1,322 lbs of HEU from the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk. The United States paid Kazakhstan $25 million for the HEU transfer. 3) An IAEA-controlled LEU nuclear fuel bank will be established, possibly by 2017, at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant. 4) The Semipalatinsk nuclear test site was officially closed in 1991. 5) From 1995 to 2001, as part of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, the United States assisted Kazakhstan sealing 13 bore holes and 181 tunnels at the test site. 6) Kazakhstan initiated a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an International Day Against Nuclear Tests, inaugurated in 2010, in support of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). ~

According to the US NNSA, the BN-350 reactor at Aktau (Shevchenko) was used by the Soviet Union to produce plutonium for weapons. Its safeguards agreement under the NPT came into force in 1994 and all facilities are under safeguards, which operate in relation to exported uranium. In February 2004 it signed the Additional Protocol in relation to its safeguards agreements with the IAEA, and this came into force in 2007. [Source:]

Nuclear Treaties and Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a party to START-I, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The country signed an Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in February 2004 and is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The foreign ministers of the five Central Asian States — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — signed a treaty establishing a Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (CANWFZ) on 8 September 2006. On 19 February 2007, Kazakh President Nazarbayev signed a law approving the country's Additional Protocol to its nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) ~]

Nuclear Weapon Related Policy. Kazakhstan: 1) signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT); 2) ratified the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (PTBT); 3) signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); 4) signed the START I (the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty); 5) ratified the Lisbon Protocol to START I. 6) ratified to the Central Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone. ~

Kazakhstan supports the Austria-led Humanitarian Initiative, which calls for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons as an assurance that they will not be used "under any circumstances." The alternative Australia-led Initiative does not use such language. Kazakhstan endorses the Humanitarian Pledge that was originally presented by the Austrian government at the third international conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna in December 2014. The Humanitarian Pledge aims to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. ~

Radioactive Waste Management in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan has a major legacy of radioactive wastes from uranium mining, nuclear reactors, nuclear weapons testing, industrial activities, coal mining and oilfields. A specific law covers radioactive waste management, and a new radioactive waste storage and disposal system is under consideration. Decommissioning of the BN-350 fast reactor at Aktau (known as Shevchenko from 1964 to 1992) is under way, with extensive international support. Used fuel has been stored at site, as is 1000 tonnes of radioactive sodium. [Source: +]

In 1997, the USA and Kazakh governments agreed to undertake a joint program to improve safety and security for the plutonium-bearing spent fuel from the BN-350 reactor. By the end of 2001, all of this material had been inventoried, put under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, and placed in 2800 one-tonne 4 metre-long storage canisters, with more-radioactive and less-radioactive fuel packaged together, so that each canister would be self-protecting, making the fuel elements far more difficult to steal. This was necessary because much of the spent fuel had been cooling for so long, and was so lightly irradiated to begin with, that some of the individual fuel assemblies were no longer radioactive enough to be "self-protecting" against theft. The USA and Kazakhstan agreed to ship the material to the area of the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in northeast Kazakhstan, west and south of Kurchatov city for storage, and the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) designed and purchased dual-purpose transport and storage casks for that purpose. These were made at a former torpedo factory in Kazakhstan. +\

Some 3000 fuel assemblies – about 300 tonnes containing 3 tonnes of plutonium – were removed from the reactor site in 12 shipments over 2009-10 under US supervision, and were transported about 3000 kilometers by train to a secure storage facility in Semlpalatinsk. This is licensed for 50 years, and the Kazakh government will be responsible for the ultimate disposition of the fuel beyond that. About 10 tonnes of fresh high-enriched uranium was sent to the Ulba plant at Ust-Kamenogorsk for downblending to low-enriched uranium. +\

The Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS) hosted about 470 nuclear weapons tests in the Soviet era and there remains a significant legacy of environmental damage there. The site was closed in 1991. The USA and Russia worked together over 1996 to 2012 with Kazakhstan to secure the former test site, which is bigger than the American state of New Jersey. The focus was on waste plutonium. +\

Lack of Security Around Semipalatinsk Test Site

There is no perimeter fence around the site, and in the 1990s only the Baykal-1 and IGR research reactor complexes were afforded dedicated security forces. Additionally, beryllium, coal, and gold are mined throughout the site and table salt is produced from a lake located near the main test field. From 1997-2000, 181 test tunnels and 13 test shafts at Semipalatinsk were sealed as part of a joint US-Kazakhstan effort under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. The site was subsequently declared safe by US authorities, and no further cooperative work planned. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative ~]

However, a lack of economic opportunity for local workers and booming global commodities prices lead to the site being overrun by metal scavengers even before the initial CTR work was completed. Evidence of illegal scavenging operations in sensitive portions of the site, including around sealed tunnels known to contain easily recoverable plutonium, was brought to the attention of US scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory by their Kazakh counterparts. Leveraging existing friendships with counterparts in Russia and Kazakhstan, Los Alamos scientists proposed “Project Amber,” a joint Kazakh-US-Russian project intended to provide further support to Kazakhstan to eliminate sources of weapons usable material at the test site. Different phases of the operation involved sealing boreholes used for subcritical plutonium testing, filling in large explosive chambers known as kolbas which were contaminated from past experiments with easily recoverable plutonium, and removing highly sensitive bomb components from some area of the site. ~

At the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March of 2012, President Obama, President Medvedev of Russia, and President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan officially announced the formally secret program of Trilateral Threat Reduction Cooperation and recognized the subsequent work carried out at Semipalatinsk for the first time publically. The official US estimation is that “a dozen” bombs worth of plutonium was secured at the site between 2005 and 2012, at a total cost of $150 million. The program’s efforts rendered the nuclear material on the site inaccessible except through a large-scale mining and recovery effort. ~

Concerns About Nuclear Materials in Kazakhstan

Weapons-grade nuclear material remains in Kazakhstan, including three metric tons of plutonium moved to Semipalatinsk for secure storage and significant amounts of civil highly enriched uranium (HEU).

In the early 1990s, there were reports that Iran tried to buy nuclear materials from newly independent Kazakhstan. SMB Computers — a Dubai-based enterprise, described as a front company, with ties to Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb — reportedly tried to obtain nuclear material in Kazakhstan. The company had an office in Almaty run by a Sri Lankan national and was involved in securing equipment able to help in the building of nuclear weapons for Libya and Iran.

Kazakhstan is home to some of the world's most abundant uranium deposits, making it a key contributor to nuclear fuel supplies around the globe. In 2011 Kazakhstan increased uranium production to almost 20,000 tons, making it the largest uranium producing country. Russia, China, and Japan all export significant percentages of uranium supplies from Kazakhstan. Established in 1997 by the Kazakh government, Kazatomprom controls all of the country's uranium exploration, mining and other nuclear activities. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) ~]

Although Kazakhstan currently does not generate nuclear power, the country is exploring assistance from Russia and Japan in constructing nuclear power plants. Russian proposals have focused on Aktau, where a Russian BN-350 fast reactor once operated. Although Kazakhstan had been studying the feasibility of a Japanese advanced boiling water reactor near Lake Balkash, a February 2013 memorandum of understanding put this location in question. Plans for light water reactors in other regions of the country are under consideration. ~

Getting Rid of Nuclear Materials in Kazakhstan

When the Soviet Union dissolved, Kazakhstan was one of four republics possessing nuclear weapons and materials. In November 1994, the United States completed Project Sapphire, which involved the purchase and removal of more than 600 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium from Kazakhstan, whose insecure storage facilities and possible nuclear sales to Libya and Iran had aroused international concern. In May 1995, the last of Kazakhstan's nuclear weapons was destroyed. The United States promised aid in permanently sealing the Semey test site. [Source: Glenn E. Curtis, Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Approximately 600 kilograms of weapons-grade HEU was removed to the United States from the Ulba Metallurgy Plant in 1994 under a joint U.S.-Kazakh operation known as Project Sapphire. Under the U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative, 74 kilograms of HEU were removed from the VVRK research reactor at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Almaty and transported to Russia in 2009. An additional 33 kilograms were removed and downblended into LEU in 2011, with U.S. assistance. [4] In September 2012, the VVRK reactor began testing LEU fuel from Russia as part of plans to eliminate the need for HEU fuel in Kazakhstan. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) ~]

In 1994, as part of Project Sapphire, the U.S. government purchased 590 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (enough to make 36 atom bombs) from Kazakhstan for $170 million to get it out of circulation so it couldn’t be made into weapons or fall into the hands of terrorists or a country like Iraq or Iran. A special team was secretly sent to Kazakhstan to secure it. The material was processed, placed in special motor-oil-can-size containers and flown on C-5 transport planes to a U.S. nuclear facility in Oak Ridge Tennessee. See Plutonium Mountain below.

Clean Up of Nuclear Weapons Sites in Kazakhstan

In 1993, the government informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of their concern about the radiological situation in Semipalatinsk and also western areas, and asked for the IAEA's help to characterize and evaluate the radiological situation at the Semipalatinsk test site. Three IAEA missions ensued over 1993-98, and identified a few areas with elevated residual radioactivity. As there are no restrictions on resettlement of the area, monitoring of residents and visitors was undertaken, showing exposure of up to 10 mSv/yr. However, if the "hot spots" were permanently settled, exposures of up to 140 mSv/yr could result. The IAEA concluded that due to budgetary and other constraints, the most appropriate remedial action initially would be to restrict access by people and cattle to those areas. [Source: */]

Following a three-year study on an experimental farm on the site, where the radioactivity levels in milk, meat, and various crops and vegetables grown was carefully monitored, in 2009 the NNC suggested that the northern portion of the area could be returned to commercial use since radiation levels were very low, and close to background. The IAEA final report submitted to the government in January 2011 supported this recommendation. The Environment Ministry is expected to make a decision on opening up much of the land for grazing. A joint US-Russian project with Kazakh assistance over 1996-2012 removed a significant quantity of high-enriched uranium and plutonium from the Semipalatinsk site, and encased more material in concrete. */

Plutonium Mountain in Kazakhstan

David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell wrote in the Washington Post: “During the Cold War, the Soviet Union carried out more than 450 nuclear explosive tests at the Semipalatinsk site, which sprawls over a portion of the Kazakh plains slightly larger than Connecticut. Most of the tests involved atomic explosions, while others were carried out to improve weapons safety, in part by examining the impact of conventional explosives on plutonium metal. A network of tunnels built under Degelen Mountain became the epicenter of these tests. [Source: David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell, Washington Post, August 17, 2013 ]

“After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russians gradually abandoned the site. Economic conditions in the main city near the testing grounds grew desperate, and residents began to search the tunnels for metal to sell. They used mining equipment to steal copper from the electrical wiring and to scavenge rails that once carried nuclear devices far underground for explosive testing.

“In the 1990s, the United States, through an agency in the Pentagon dealing with nuclear security, funded a program to close off the entrances to the tunnels at Semipalatinsk so they could never again be used for nuclear tests. The tunnels were sealed at the portals but not explored to any depth. Plutonium from the earlier safety tests lay deep inside.” The plutonium — enough to build a dozen or more nuclear weapons — was vulnerable to theft by terrorists and rogue states.

“In 1995, two scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory visited Degelen Mountain and came away convinced that the site was a potential plutonium “mine” for thieves and terrorists. Then, in January 1998, Siegfried S. Hecker, who had just retired as the laboratory’s director, heard from a Kazakh scientist that the Degelen Mountain area was wide open, despite the U.S.-led tunnel-closing effort, and scavengers were searching it.

“In April of that year, Hecker and two Los Alamos specialists went to Kazakhstan for nine days. At Semipalatinsk, Hecker found a lone, meager guard gate and no guards. He saw long trenches in the brown, dry land that could have been dug only by powerful excavating machines. “People on the site — no way to keep them off,” he wrote in his notes. In another location, Hecker saw one of the tunnels that had been closed. The front was still plugged, but scavengers broke in by drilling down from above and behind the barrier. “I really thought these were guys digging a little bit of copper out. Instead, this was a major industrial enterprise,” Hecker said in a recent interview.

In a report he wrote after the trip, Hecker estimated that the total plutonium in the area could approach 440 pounds. A nuclear bomb would require only about 17 pounds, or even less in some designs. Hecker wrote that it was “material in reasonably concentrated form, easily picked up, completely open to whomever wants to come.”

Figuring Out What to Do About Plutonium Mountain

David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell wrote in the Washington Post: In the summer of 1995, on a trip to Russia, Hecker met with Radi Ilkaev, the director of Arzamas-16, one of the two leading Soviet-era nuclear weapons labs, which continued to operate in Russia. One evening, Hecker quietly pressed Ilkaev about Semipalatinsk: Did the Soviet Union leave nuclear materials buried there? Ilkaev responded cautiously, Hecker recalled. He said Russia was finished at Semipalatinsk and never wanted to go back, but could not afford the environmental cleanup. Hecker pulled out the photos he had taken at Semipalatinsk. He showed Ilkaev evidence that huge earth-cutting machines had sliced through the ground. “Radi, that’s your test site. Those are the copper cable thieves,” he said. Ilkaev looked at the photos and finally said, according to Hecker, “I’ll have someone to talk to you in the morning.’” [Source: David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell, Washington Post, August 17, 2013 ]

The next day, Ilkaev introduced Hecker to a pair of scientists, Yuri Styazhkin and Viktor Stepanyuk, who had worked on the test site. Styazhkin knew the whole story, but he did not reveal it all at once. “There are a lot of things we did out there,” he told Hecker. Once back in the United States, Hecker gave a series of briefings in Washington about what he had discovered. He showed the photographs of the trenches and warned officials at the departments of Energy and Defense that the amount of recoverable plutonium was perhaps enough for a dozen nuclear weapons. Maybe more.

“At a June 1999 seminar with U.S. officials in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, Ilkaev and other Russian scientists revealed that the problem at Semipalatinsk was bigger than just Degelen Mountain. At an area known as the Balapan, Soviet experiments in vertical shafts (or “bore holes”) had left plutonium residue in shallow holes. Kazakh scientists reported that scavenging was occurring there, as well.

“At first, any cooperation seemed unlikely. Officials from the Russian Atomic Energy Agency, then known as Minatom, were suspicious that the United States was trying to collect intelligence about Russian nuclear weapons. Russia was also going through a tumultuous period after an economic collapse in 1998, the outbreak of a second war in Chechnya in 1999 and President Boris Yeltsin’s sudden resignation that December, with Vladimir Putin ascending as his handpicked successor. At the time, Russian officials were making progress toward securing nuclear facilities and reducing weapons stockpiles, but resentments toward Washington lingered. Eventually, they agreed to move ahead on Semipalatinsk but, as a condition, refused to take back any nuclear material. All of it would have to be secured in place, in Kazakhstan.

:By contrast, officials in Kazakhstan were eager to get started on the project. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, disturbed by the remnants of Cold War-era Soviet nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs that had been carried out in his country, actively backed nonproliferation efforts. All three countries agreed not to officially notify the International Atomic Energy Agency of the Semipalatinsk operation, in part because they feared leaks. As a ―non-nuclear-weapons state, Kazakhstan is required to report all weapons-usable materials on its territory to the IAEA, but in the case of the plutonium, it did not.”

Securing the Nuclear Material in Plutonium Mountain

David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell wrote in the Washington Post: “ To secure the plutonium at the bore holes, the scientists and engineers borrowed a method from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. The Soviet Union had built a concrete containment dome around the destroyed Chernobyl reactor. The Russians pointed out that such an approach could also work at Semipalatinsk; scavengers would be deterred from breaking into a giant concrete sarcophagus. [Source: David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell, Washington Post, August 17, 2013 ]

“The project to build the dome was called Operation Groundhog. The funding came from a program approved by Congress in late 1991, sponsored by Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), to cope with risks posed by nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union. With the operation, the effort shifted to official government cooperation: The United States would provide the money; Russia would provide the data; Kazakhstan would do most of the work.

“Conceived in 2000, Operation Groundhog suffered repeated delays, including work stoppages during the frigid winters. But with the nuclear ambitions of al-Qaeda coming into clearer view in documents seized during the invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. officials felt the urgency of preventing plutonium from falling into the wrong hands. The concrete dome over the holes at the Balapan was completed in August 2003.

“Just a few miles away, however, Degelen Mountain was still unattended, and scavengers continued to burrow in close proximity to weapons-grade plutonium. When a senior Pentagon official, Andy Weber, met with Russian and Kazakh officials in mid-2003 to discuss extending projects to the mountain, the Russians were still ambivalent and did not reveal all they knew. They offered the locations of three more experiments, at two sites. If work at these sample locales went well, and if the Russians felt confident that the Americans were not committing espionage, Minatom would consider sharing more information.

“As it turned out, these sample locations weren’t in Degelen Mountain at all but in a nearby bunker. They involved three “kolbas” — large metal cylinders, about 8 by 24 feet, insulated with Kevlar and fiberglass and designed to contain explosions equivalent to the force of 440 pounds of dynamite. They were most often placed deep within Degelen Mountain for plutonium tests, but three had been used above ground and were stored in the bunker. The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency agreed to work on the three kolbas,one of which had been pried open by scavengers, and to defer action on Degelen Mountain. Operation Matchbox, begun in 2004, secured the kolbas by filling them with a concrete mixture.

“In the spring of 2005, U.S. scientists finally got the breakthrough they’d been waiting for when Russia released all the remaining information about Degelen Mountain. But it wasn’t pretty. The mountain contained about 220 pounds of recoverable plutonium — enough for more than a dozen nuclear bombs. Even more surprising, Russia revealed that at one location, the Soviets had left behind some high-purity plutonium and equipment that could be used to build a nuclear weapon.

This disclosure alarmed U.S. officials, but the Russians were extremely cautious. In their reports to the U.S. side, they used code names for 16 sites in and around Degelen Mountain, ranking them according to proliferation risk. Three of the sites were found to present the “maximum risk” if they fell into the wrong hands and were given the code names X, Y and Z. One day, while crews were drilling a hole at the Y site, a concrete retaining wall collapsed, exposing the plutonium and equipment. Eventually, material from two of the sites was sent back to Russia, and the third was entombed in concrete.”

Finishing the Job at Plutonium Mountain in Kazakhstan

Reporting from Kurchatov City, Kazakhstan, David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell wrote in the Washington Post: In October 2012, “at the foot of a rocky hillside near here, at...Degelen Mountain, several dozen Kazakh, Russian and American nuclear scientists and engineers gathered for a ceremony. After a few speeches, they unveiled a three-sided stone monument, etched in English, Russian and Kazakh, which declared: “1996-2012. The world has become safer.” [Source: David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell, Washington Post, August 17, 2013 ]

“The modest ribbon-cutting marked the conclusion of one of the largest and most complex nuclear security operations since the Cold War.The secret mission was to secure” the plutonium at Degelen Mountain. “The effort spanned 17 years, cost $150 million and involved a complex mix of intelligence, science, engineering, politics and sleuthing...The effort was almost entirely conceived and implemented by scientists and government officials operating without formal agreements among the nations involved. Many of these scientists were veterans of Cold War nuclear-testing programs, but they overcame their mistrust and joined forces to clean up and secure the Semipalatinsk testing site, a dangerous legacy of the nuclear arms race.

“Scavengers continued to raid the tunnels until 2008, when Kazakhstan finally declared Degelen Mountain an “exclusion zone” — which allowed U.S. officials to erect warning signs — and when Kazakh security forces got the authority to expel the scavengers. The following year, the United States funded and helped install an elaborate security system at the site. [Source: David E. Hoffman and Eben Harrell, Washington Post, August 17, 2013 ]

“Still, the work remained slow. In a 2010 summit in Washington that included 47 nations, President Obama arranged a personal meeting with Nazarbayev. Officials of the two nations then met with their Russian counterparts. The United States, Russia and Kazakhstan agreed in confidence to complete the work at Semipalatinsk by the next summit, scheduled for March 2012 in Seoul.

“This high-level commitment galvanized the operation. For the first time, Kazakh crews worked through the winters, and American officials stayed on site in Semipalatinsk with them, while increased U.S. funding meant four crews could work simultaneously instead of one. Obama, Nazarbayev and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced the completion of the work in Seoul, though the news was overshadowed by Obama’s “open mike” incident with Medvedev.

“The Semipalatinsk operation succeeded: It secured the plutonium, reducing the threat that it could fall into the hands of scavengers, terrorists or a state with malevolent intentions. The operation showed once again that funding for nuclear security can pay large dividends. But it was a close call. Had scientists not prodded the governments of the United States, Russia and Kazakhstan, the cleanup might never have been launched, or traffickers might have arrived before the materials could be secured. Questions also remain over the long term. Plutonium’s half-life is 24,110 years. Will someone, someday attempt to recover the material from the cemented tunnels and holes? Will it ever pose an environmental risk? While Nazarbayev’s commitment to nonproliferation has been strong, he is now 73 years old and has not designated a successor. What kind of leadership will prevail in Kazakhstan a decade or a century from now? How will the U.S.-Russian relationship evolve in the years ahead?”

Iaea and Kazakhstan Agree to Create Nuclear Fuel Bank

In August 2105, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Kazakhstan signed an agreement to set up a low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel 'bank' in Oskemen, Kazakhstan. The World Nuclear News reported: “Operated by Kazakhstan and expected to start operations in 2017, the IAEA LEU Bank will be a physical reserve of LEU - the basic ingredient of nuclear fuel - and act as a supplier of last resort for the Vienna-based agency's Member States in case they cannot obtain LEU on the global commercial market or otherwise. The facility is also seen as an important part of international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation - as a way to dissuade countries from building enrichment facilities that might be misused to purify uranium to weapons-grade levels. [Source: World Nuclear News, August 27, 2015 =]

“The agreement was signed in Astana by IAEA director general Yukiya Amano and Kazakhstan's foreign minister Erlan Idrissov. The IAEA LEU Bank will host up to 90 tonnes of LEU, sufficient to run a 1000 MWe light-water reactor. The Ulba Metallurgical Plant has been handling and storing nuclear material, including LEU, safely and securely for more than 60 years. The establishment and operation of the IAEA LEU Bank is fully funded through $150 million of voluntary contributions from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the USA, the EU, the UAE, Kuwait, Norway and Kazakhstan. Their contributions will cover the cost of the facility for the first ten years of operation, Amano said. =

“Following the signing of the agreement, Thomas Countryman, US assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation, said the fuel bank "is not the first place you go to for nuclear fuel", but is "specifically in case there is a sudden disruption in that supply". Kazakhstan "can play a very important role in giving that insurance to countries around the world," he said. =

"As the world's largest uranium producer, with expertise in peaceful nuclear technology, Kazakhstan is well suited to hosting the IAEA LEU Bank," Amano said. Kazakhstan hosts more than 15 percent of global uranium reserves, but has no nuclear power plants of its own. The safety and security of the IAEA LEU Bank will be governed by Kazakhstan's legal and regulatory requirements, and will meet the applicable provisions of the IAEA's safety standards and security guidance documents. The LEU will also be subject to IAEA safeguards. International security

Converting Biological Weapons Facilities into Drug Factories

A number of facilities that store large quantities of disease-causing pathogens in the former Soviet Union are still operating today, mainly as disease research centers. The conditions at these facilities is often less than ideal. Some are in areas with lots of people, and there are worries about the release of pathogens. Security is also minimal. There are worries that local gangsters might steal some pathogens and sell them to terrorists.

The Anti-Plague Institute (formally known as the Lakh Science Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases) in a green suburb if Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan was an important research center in the Soviet biological weapon program. Anthrax, plague, tularemia and other diseases were kept in unlocked refrigerators. In one case a journalist found plague germs kept in an old pea can in a refrigerator secured with string and wax. The facility was so short of funds it could not pay its telephone bill and was thus unable to call police in the event of a release of pathogens or a break in.

The United States paid more than $2.5 million to convert part of the facility in Stepnogorsk. Kazakhstan, into a pharmaceutical factory and dismantle the rest in the early 2000s. Many people were sad to see it go because it was only place they could get a job. Many scientist who worked there are still unemployed and are regarded as security risks who might offer their expertise abroad.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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