August 29 is the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. Since nuclear weapons were invented in 1945, there have been more than 2000 tests without any consideration of the harmful effects that radiation has on humans and the environment. To put an end to this devastating practice the international community negotiated the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, which ,however, still needs to enter into force. This international day is a compelling reminder of the need to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.
Where nuclear weapons were exploded to case study their destructive potential, there was a complete disregard for the harmful effects this would have on the health of people living in the area of the tests.
In Kazakhstan from 1949 until 1989 more than 456 nuclear devices were detonated at the Semipalatinsk testing area. The human suffering that took place is well-documented and the villagers paid a horrendous price. One in every 20 children is born with serious deformities, many had to struggle with rare forms of cancer and more than half of the population has died before reaching the age of 60.
When the nuclear arms race became more sophisticated nuclear weapons became more powerful and the effects more dreadful. The United States tested its first hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Island. The 15-megatonne Bravo test in March 1954 was a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The islanders and their descendants had to live in exile for years. Some resident were allowed to return in the 70s, however they were removed again after ingesting high levels of radiations from eating foods grown in the former test site. In total the US tested 67 weapons in the territory of the Marshall islands. Today, the Marshallese presented a case in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to demand nuclear disarmament as a form of reparation to the health and environmental damage caused by the tests.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated with great clarity: “A world free of nuclear weapons would be a global public good of the highest order.” In August 2016, the Open Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament adopted a recommendation for the United Nation General Assembly to vote for the commencement of negotiations for a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons in 2017. Until a treaty banning nuclear weapons is adopted, there is a need to observe the International Day against Nuclear Tests as a way to promote awareness and security world wide.