Kazakhstan to host international conference against nuclear weapons

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On August 29, Kazakhstan will host a conference entitled "Kazakhstan's way to a nuclear weapon-free world" to mark the 16th anniversary of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site's closure. The symposium will be organized by the country's Foreign Ministry.

The event will be attended by high-ranking representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), members of the United States Congress, Kazakh lawmakers and Cabinet ministers, the heads of scientific and research centers concerned with non-proliferation, diplomats and members of international organizations, and local and foreign journalists.

Kazakhstan was the first ex-Soviet state to scrap its nuclear weapons program. After the Soviet Union's breakup, the country inherited the world's fourth-largest nuclear arsenal, with around 1,400 warheads.

In 1991 President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had just become president of the newly-independent Central Asian state, ordered the shutdown of the Semipalatinsk test site and the handover of all nuclear weapons to Russia. The previous year, South Africa had made history by becoming the first country to voluntarily terminate its nuclear deterrent.

Former Soviet republics Ukraine, with a vast nuclear arsenal of 5,000 warheads, and Belarus, with a smaller arsenal, concluded the handover of their atomic weapons five years after Kazakhstan.

The conference organizers said: "The symposium is intended to attract the world's attention to the example of Kazakhstan, which has shown that the most effective and preferable path to ensuring the security of a nation lies through a nuclear weapon-free choice and a consistently peaceful foreign policy, and not through the creation and development of weapons of mass destruction. In light of the international situation today, Kazakhstan's example can and should be very timely and useful."

Semipalatinsk, in northeast Kazakhstan's steppe, was the Soviet Union's largest nuclear weapons testing ground. The site, picked by Joseph Stalin's security chief Lavrentiy Beria after the Second World War, saw the country's first atom bomb test explosion, Operation First Lightning, in 1949.

Over the next four decades, hundreds of bomb tests were conducted at Semipalatinsk, dispersing dangerous radioactive contamination over a vast area.

The conference organizers said the upcoming event "will also highlight the Kazakhstan-U.S. partnership in non-proliferation and the Nunn-Lugar Program in Kazakhstan, which this year marks its 15th anniversary."

The list of speakers includes: Kanat Saudabayev, Kazakhstan's secretary of state; Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin; Energy Minister Bakhtykozha Izmukhambetov; U.S. Congress Delegate Eni Faleomavaega; U.S. Republican Representative Chris Cannon; an un-named senior IAEA official; and academics and non-proliferation experts from the United States and Europe.

The conference organizers said: "The symposium will take place as the international attention is drawn to Kazakhstan's becoming a major global player in the peaceful use of atomic energy."

The conference organizers highlighted that Kazakhstan, although free of nuclear weapons, is an active player in the world nuclear energy market.

On August 13, the country's state nuclear energy company Kazatomprom and Japan's Toshiba Corp. announced a deal by which the Kazakh company is to buy Toshiba's 10% stake in U.S.-based nuclear power plant maker Westinghouse Electric Co.  

"Kazakhstan, believed to hold the world's second-largest uranium reserves, plans to use the deal to enter new export markets for its uranium fuel. Kazatomprom is the world's third-largest uranium producer, and aims to become the leading uranium miner by 2010," the statement said.

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