My experience of the nuclear horror
September 25th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

My experience of the nuclear horror

By Karipbek Kuyukov, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Karipbek Kuyukov is an artist and Honorary Ambassador of The ATOM Project, a global campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons testing. The views expressed are his own.

As world leaders gather for the United Nations High-level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament in New York, I would like to deliver a short message from the survivors of nuclear weapons testing in Kazakhstan.

The perpetual question of whether to pursue the nuclear arms race or eradicate nuclear weapons has divided international opinion. Experts, politicians and world leaders have traditionally sided either for or against nuclear arms. Some believe that nuclear weapons help preserve peace, yet surely many more believe these weapons are a certain path to another world war and the eventual obliteration of mankind.

But although there has been much discussion of the issue, few on either side have turned for advice to the victims of nuclear tests and explosions. We have a lot to say and a right to be heard.

I was born in 1968, about 100 kilometers away from the notorious Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in eastern Kazakhstan where the Soviet Union tested hundreds of nuclear devices over four decades. I was born without arms, a result of the horrific impact of nuclear radiation on the health of our people. As I grew up, I saw that I was not alone.

I saw mothers and midwifes shocked at the sight of other babies born with birth defects. I saw families too embarrassed to show their children to the outside world, hiding them deep inside their homes and bringing them out only briefly to have some fresh air and sun. I saw families and whole communities decimated by radiation-related cancers. As the United Nations notes, more than 1.5 million people in Kazakhstan suffered the effects of Soviet nuclear weapons testing, which lasted from 1949 until 1991.

I saw so much tragedy and suffering over these years that I decided for myself that I would do everything possible to ensure that my generation is the last to experience the painful and irreversible consequences of nuclear weapons testing. I became an activist in an anti-nuclear weapons movement and, remarkable as it might sound for a person in my situation, I took up painting in the hope that my art will inspire people to action.

Today, I see hope and inspiration. I think this vision of a world without nuclear weapons testing and nuclear weapons altogether can become a reality. It will be hard to reach, but it is nevertheless possible.

The first ray of hope for me came in 1991, when Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev shut down the Semipalatinsk test site in defiance of the Soviet government in Moscow.

Next came the decisions by my country, as well as Ukraine, Belarus and South Africa, to renounce their nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons programs in the 1990s.

Then came the opening for signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996. Since that time, 183 countries have signed the treaty and 159 countries have ratified it. But the treaty cannot enter into force until it is signed and ratified by eight more countries – China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

And it is to the leaders of these eight countries that I and my fellow nuclear weapons tests survivors address our plea for understanding and leadership. We are supported by people from more than 100 countries who have already signed a petition to all the leaders of the world to put a permanent end to nuclear weapons testing by working to bring into effect the CTBT and to work towards a nuclear weapons free future.

The petition – located here – is part of the campaign of The ATOM Project to draw global attention to the need to show more leadership and take decisive steps towards the elimination of the nuclear threat. Anyone in the world can sign the petition and contribute to building a nuclear-weapons-free world.

Since its launch in August 2012, the ATOM Project has told the stories of nuclear testing survivors in several cities in the United States and Europe.  Everywhere my friends and I go – from international organizations to high offices to think tanks to university campuses and community meetings – we receive an enthusiastic response and one simple message: Keep doing what you are doing; the world needs to hear your story so that global leaders make good on their promises to act to stop the nuclear weapons race.

This encouragement gives us strength to go on.

In the 21st century, global security remains the number one issue facing the people of our planet. I believe we need to re-evaluate having nuclear arms that are used to intimidate rather than keep the world safe. How can something that takes the lives of millions in an instant keep us all safe?

Today, you can make decisions for which your children and grandchildren will thank you. On behalf of others like me, I urge you to be courageous and visionary and find safer ways to protect your peoples. I would love to shake your hands and feel the warmth of your handshake, but the nuclear past of our country has deprived me of that opportunity.

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Topics: Central Asia • Nuclear

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    Excellent article . Yes, the CNTB treaty needs to be signed by the US and others. In addition, usage of nuclear spent fuels in weaponry needs to stop . It caused birth defects in Iraq and other countries. The legacy of birth defects from endless wars including Viet Nam is a very underreported subject by our " investigative journalists ".

    September 25, 2013 at 11:15 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed, Karipbek Kuyukov is a remarkable and courageous activist. He needs all our support to carry on with his mission. He deserves to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
      Keep it up, Karipbek Kuyukov! All the best for your endeavour!

      September 30, 2013 at 11:23 am | Reply
  2. Chukwuemeka

    Once more Fareed you have shown how to live the news by highlighting people in news. I hope with the olive branch the new Iranian President has humbly extended to the west it could serve as the beginning of world wide ratification of a ban on further development and use of nuclear arms.
    Keep up the good work sir.

    September 25, 2013 at 11:43 am | Reply
  3. looN

    Sir, you a great ,

    September 25, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Reply
  4. carol abaray

    Very moving account of the reality of nuclear weaponry. Thank you so much for disseminating this information to us. This planet is a very fragile life-supporting system. We can hope for enlightened minds to know and to understand this issue. Thank you for your commitment.

    September 26, 2013 at 11:38 am | Reply
  5. saber

    in the words of jimmi hendrix legendary guitarist icon of a bygone era -the day that the power of love overcomes the love for power then there will be peace on earth .---till then my friends expect the horrors of war and the value of the quality of life for our fellow man to be worth less than money -untill life is worth more than money -life will remain worthless to those involved in generation of money . if in doubt who runs the world remember the golden rule – those who have the gold make the rules . -those in power now dont care about anyone dying and child starving -collateral damage they do in bombings or drone strikes -the weatern cultures or the athiest communist nor the hindu -nor the islamics -life has no worth to anyone unless its there own -greed runs the world and the devil is in the details . me iw would preffer the world go back to the stone age in subsistance living because nowdays we a;rt the food containinate the water risk nuclear war or nuclear disaster and chemicals taint every thing and industrial polutiuons everywhere and afflicting everyones health to the next generations the earth is sick now and needs time to heal correctly if its not allowed in the future we may rid the earth of ourselves by our own actions someday then /maybe then this polanet can heal itself over time /alone .

    September 28, 2013 at 2:13 am | Reply
  6. trishli

    To Karipbek Kuyukov: thank you for serving so effectively as the voice of those who were injured by nuclear bomb tests at Semipalatinsk, the Nevada Test Site, or from plutonium production sites such as Mayak in the former Soviet Union, or Hanford in Washington State in the US. I was born in 1950 in the city closest to Hanford, and bear the physical scars of my childhood spent drinking radioiodine-containing milk and living under clouds of radionuclides released from the facility. I also lost both parents to radiogenic cancers. Thank you for being a courageous voice for so many of us throughout the world, victims of radiation exposure from nuclear weapons production and testing activities. As you have advocated in so articulate a manner, the CNTB, when signed and honored by all nuclear nations, is essential to the survival of the human race. May no future generations endure what you and all of the downwinders have suffered. http://www.trishapritikin.com

    September 28, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  7. mike

    well if America did not threaten everything that had oil, we might not need nukes.

    September 29, 2013 at 1:34 am | Reply

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