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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Kazakhstan highlights nuclear test aftermath
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
President Nazarbayev seeks money for the clear-up
Kazakhstan has marked the 10th anniversary of the closure of the Soviet nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk with a drive to remind the world of its lasting impact on the environment and the health of local people.

Semipalatinsk, in the northeast of the Central Asian state, was the scene of more than 500 nuclear explosions between 1949 and 1989. All the tests up to 1962 were carried out on or above ground.


Hundreds of thousands of people in Kazakhstan were subjected to radiation: the aftermath is undermining our future, the health of our children

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
The country's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev - who presided over the site's closure in 1991, as the Soviet Union itself neared its end - used a gathering of former world leaders on Wednesday to appeal for funds to cope with the aftermath.

Appeal fund

His audience, including Soviet ex-President Mikhail Gorbachev and former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, heard him appeal for more than $1bn to tackle the environmental and health impact of Semipalatinsk and other nuclear sites dotted around his vast country.

"Hundreds of thousands of people in Kazakhstan were subjected to radiation in one way or another: the aftermath of the nuclear tests is undermining our future, the health of our children," he said in a speech broadcast on national television.

"It is very difficult to bear alone the whole expense of resolving problems of global importance."

Launch

The anniversary also gave Mr Nazarbayev an opportunity to launch his latest book, entitled The Epicentre of Peace and devoted to the cause of nuclear disarmament.

The title, he told a news conference, reflected Kazakhstan's role in giving up its own weapons as the Soviet Union collapsed.

"It was from our country - the place that once was the epicentre of nuclear threats - that a new peace process, the voluntary and conscious liberation of humanity from the most dangerous threat, started," he said.

This process embodied "the fight of the Kazakh nation and leadership for liberation from the nuclear complex and its infrastructure".

Memorial

In Semipalatinsk itself, Wednesday's anniversary was marked by the unveiling of a memorial to all those - estimated by the UN at about 100,000 over three generations - who have suffered as a result of radiation from the tests.

Explosion at Semipalatinsk test range
The range is dead - but its legacy lingers
Named Stronger than Death, it comprises a 30-metre-high black slab bearing a silhouette of a nuclear mushroom cloud, accompanied by a white marble sculpture of a mother covering her child with her body, and a black granite figure of a man with genetic mutations caused by radiation.

A Russian TV report marking the anniversary reminded viewers that the effects were not yesterday's problem.

"The impact is still there: there is no let-up in the number of new-born children with hereditary diseases," Bulat Ismailov, a professor at the national cancer institute, said.

The TV reporter highlighted the case of a child who is receiving treatment for illnesses caused by radiation.

"Kuanesh has a cleft palate: he can hardly talk, but he dreams that once he is cured he will start learning his native languages."

Dilemma

But the problems bequeathed by Semipalatinsk have left Kazakhstan with a dilemma. Its nuclear authorities think one way of raising money to fund the clear-up could be to invite imports of nuclear waste.


Scientists believe waste imports are necessary in order to raise money for the national programme to rehabilitate polluted areas

Kazakhstan Today news agency
Earlier this month, the chief researcher at the National Nuclear Centre, Zhabag Takibayev, proposed using the Degelen mountains around Semipalatinsk to store high-radioactivity waste from domestic nuclear reactors.

He also backed calls from the national nuclear energy company, Kazatomprom, to change the law to allow imports of low- and medium-radioactivity waste for burial in Kazakhstan, a step which proved controversial when it was taken by Russia in July.

"Scientists believe waste imports are necessary for Kazakhstan in order to raise money for the national programme to bury its own radioactive waste and rehabilitate polluted areas," the Kazakhstan Today news agency commented at the time.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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