Nuclear Fuel Bank: A New Way to go Nuclear

By Alex Walters

Nuclear power is a good thing. It provides an alternative energy source for many countries and, depending on your definition, is eco-friendly. The only problem is the stuff used to fuel it could also cause a global security catastrophe if it falls into the wrong hands.

So the dilemma is how to enjoy the good parts while reducing the risk of being affected by the bad parts. Answer: A nuclear fuel bank.

A nuclear fuel bank, one of the currently discussed mechanisms to ensure the safety of an international nuclear fuel cycle, would essentially be an ultimate guarantee for countries to get the low enriched uranium they need for nuclear power from a centralized international source, in case they are unable to procure such fuel in an open market. According to the proponents of the idea, this bank will then offer an additional guarantee for countries developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The idea of such an international nuclear fuel bank, or INFB, has been on the radar screen of the International Atomic Agency in Vienna, Austria since it was first proposed by the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in 2006. Since then, diplomats and experts from across the globe have been working to develop a mechanism that would guarantee safe access for countries to nuclear fuel.

Kazakhstan has been a leader in this effort and has offered to host the bank. The country’s history, global relationships and leadership on the issue of nuclear safety make it uniquely suited to host the bank. The country was the first nation in history to voluntarily and unilaterally eliminate its nuclear arsenal and shut down the nuclear test site. The arsenal was inherited from the Soviet Union and was, at the time, the fourth largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It was larger than the nuclear weapons systems of Britain, France and China combined.

Kazakhstan is also a tolerant Muslim-majority secular nation with flourishing Christian and Jewish communities. It enjoys excellent relations with the United States and Russia, Europe and China, India, Iran, the major Arab nations and Israel. It has an unblemished record on nuclear safety and security. And it’s located at the heart of the Eurasian land mass as a bridge between North and South, East and West.

“As the world’s largest producer of uranium ore, Kazakhstan is ideally placed to host the first international nuclear fuel bank. The bank, which would be run under the auspices of the IAEA, could provide uranium fuel to enable states to power civilian nuclear reactors without having to bear the risk of not being able to procure uranium at open markets. All countries which meet IAEA conditions would be able to access the bank,” President Nursultan Nazarbayev wrote in an op-ed published in The International Herald Tribune on March 26, 2012.

Kazakhstan’s vision is moving closer to becoming a reality. At the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit on March 26-27, U.S. President Barack Obama praised Kazakhstan’s readiness to host the international bank for low-enriched uranium. He also recognized the country’s efforts in promoting international cooperation in strengthening nuclear security.

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov has struck a similar optimistic note. He believes Kazakhstan’s consultations with the IAEA on the future fuel bank’s location can be completed this spring. And in an interview with The Wall Street Journal published February 7, Kazykhanov said the government then hopes to bring the facility online by late 2013.

Nuclear power isn’t going anywhere and it’s a viable alternative for many countries. And Kazakhstan is on the forefront of a new way to go nuclear.


A Country and its President Grow Together

By Alex Walters

The success of Kazakhstan during its first two decades of independence springs directly from the life lessons learned by its founding President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Like the Kazakhstan that reemerged into independence at the end of 1991, Nazarbayev was a product of nomadic Kazakh culture and of the challenging new world of science and engineering that came to Central Asia in the 20th century. He grew up on a collective farm in the village of Chemolgan where his father was an experienced herdsman. He showed aptitude early for mathematics and science and was fast-tracked through the Soviet educational system.

Nazarbayev's background reflected the country he grew up in. Kazakhstan suffered terribly in the first half of the 20th century under the nearly 30-year rule of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Hundreds of thousands of people starved to death there during the forced collectivisations of the early 1930s.

Compared to those experiences, the 1950s and 1960s when Nazarbayev grew up was a time of peace, recovery and hope. But there were other dark shadows over the nation. As a rising engineer and young father in the 1960s in the city of Karaganda, Nazarbayev often had to comfort his young daughters when they were scared by the ominous thunder of the underground thermonuclear, or hydrogen bomb tests, at nearby Semipalatinsk. In later years, as he rose through the government structure of Kazakhstan to become its prime minister and later first secretary of its Communist party, a de facto head of the republic, under the Soviet system, he became familiar with the horrible toll in cancers and frightful mutations that the Soviet tests were inflicting on the inhabitants of the Semipalatinsk area.

The memory of being a father comforting his terrified little girls when the earth heaved and roared during those endless underground nuclear tests continues to drive and inspire Nazarbayev today. It explains why he played such an active role in the April 2010 nuclear non-proliferation summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, DC. And it explains why Astana hosted in October 2011 a highly successful nuclear forum to advance efforts to create a nuclear weapon free world.
Nazarbayev also achieved early success working in Kazakhstan's mining industry. This gave him an invaluable background allowing him to lead the prospecting for and extraction of hydrocarbon energy resources in the 1990s.

However, Nazarbayev was also horrified by the working conditions miners in the nation's metallurgy industry had to make do with and he worked hard to alleviate them. This experience showed him the dark underside of the Soviet communist system and its inability to ameliorate the sufferings of the people it claimed to protect.

Nazarbayev's background as a mining industry engineer also led him to recognize the long-term value of investing in sustainable light industry, and not to narrow Kazakhstan's long-term future to just oil, gas, uranium and other non-renewable energy resources. That is why he has instituted a 20-year programme to diversify the country's economic base and eventually make it the leading light industrial, food processing and financial nation for the region.

After Nazarbayev, then 44, became prime minister, or chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic (KSSR) in 1984, he had to deal with another ecological catastrophe brought on by incompetent Soviet planning. In the 1950s, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev implemented a plan to grow wheat on millions of acres of so-called "virgin land" in Central Asia. Khrushchev and his successors also constructed a series of hydroelectric dams across Central Asia.

But after only a few years, the new wheat fields in semi-arid land failed. This led to massive and widespread soil erosion which created a gigantic dust bowl more ruinous than the one that plagued America's heartland through the Great Depression. And the new dams, and the excessive use of water from the two largest rivers of the region, Amu Dariya and Syr Dariya, for cotton irrigation, from emptying into the Aral Sea, which literally died.

Nazarbayev had to deal with the consequences of these catastrophes and they had a lasting effect on his thinking. When he launched a successful programme five years ago to revive Kazakhstan's potentially enormous agricultural sector, he sought expert advice. The country has since imported breeding stock and expertise for its grain and cattle sectors from leading international experts.
When Central Asia, Russia and Ukraine suffered huge harvest shortfalls in 2010 because of drought, Kazakhstan's shortfall was far less than its neighbours and it was able to provide crucial grain exports to Russia, Ukraine and other nations to stave off crisis in the region. Kazakh farmers and planners attribute this success to their introduction of widespread contour plowing and other practices to reduce soil erosion while expanding production.

Other life lessons Nazarbayev has brought to his governance of the country include his witnessing of the dysfunction of communism during Soviet times. It was a dysfunction witnessed by many of his countrymen and is behind the widespread support he enjoyed after independence when he defied the Kremlin to implement a series of environmental, human rights, democratic and free market economic reforms.

Nazarbayev came late to the international free market system but learned fast and implemented what he learned. He quickly realized the importance of providing a secure, welcoming environment for foreign direct investment (FDI), especially for international energy majors whom he needed to develop the Caspian Sea's then still-almost-untapped oil and natural gas.

Nazarbayev has also not forgotten that he has risen all the way from a collective farm to the new President's Palace in Astana. And he has been determined to give that same opportunity to new generations of Kazakhs. The country now has the best educational system in its history. New universities and scientific research institutes have been opened. Resources are being continually poured into kindergarten and primary school education as well.

Nazarbayev has succeeded in Kazakhstan because he embraced the wider world. He has travelled widely in his two decades as president and created close relations with nations as different as the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, China, Russia, Israel and Iran. And every year, Kazakhstan sends up to 3,000 students to study at the world's top universities.

Nowhere was Nazarbayev more progressive in his thinking than in his determination to scrap all nuclear weapons and bomb testing and make his country a global centre for the peaceful development and use of nuclear energy. By 1995, he had completely scrapped or shipped back to Russia the enormous nuclear arsenal Kazakhstan inherited from the Soviet Union. This included more than 1,000 nuclear warheads and state-of-the-art missile delivery systems that had left Kazakhstan at independence as a far greater military nuclear power than China, Britain or France.

But Nazarbayev wanted none of it. He wanted Kazakhstan to find its identity as the new Silk Road, the peaceful hub of global commerce between East and West, North and South across Eurasia. And the first step to this was winning American and European trust and good will. Thus, scrapping the nuclear arsenal led directly to the flood of FDI (136 billion dollars since independence at the latest count) that is now rapidly making Kazakhstan one of the world's leading oil and natural gas producing and exporting powers.

The success of the policies instituted by Kazakhstan's founding president over the last 20 years are unequalled throughout former Soviet Central Asia. They are also all in accord with the history of the nomadic, exploring, and wide-trading Kazakh people, and they are deeply rooted in Nazarbayev's own life story. That is why he has succeeded in making his country a beacon of prosperity, growth, modernity and tolerance throughout Eurasia.  

Nuclear Disarmament Opened Way for Kazakhstan’s Peaceful Growth

By Alex Walters

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev never hesitated in his decision to close down Semipalatinsk, the main nuclear test site of the Soviet Union. He didn't even wait for national independence to do it.

Nazarbayev told this reporter in an interview that the appalling toll in human suffering from 40 years of reckless nuclear testing at Semipalatinsk drove him to defy the leaders of the Soviet Union and unilaterally order the closing down of the site on Aug. 29, 1991.

"The Semipalatinsk test site was a key target in the arms race for the Soviet Union. Thus, the question of its closure was a taboo subject for the Soviet leadership," the President of Kazakhstan said. "But knowing the consequences Kazakhstan witnessed as a result of the nuclear tests that were carried out at the site, I took a firm decision to cease the bombings on the native land."

Nazarbayev was highly critical in the interview about the irresponsibility of generations of Soviet leaders who ultimately allowed at least 1.5 million people to be exposed to the hazards of radioactive fall-out and radiation from atmospheric and underground nuclear tests without giving them adequate warning or preparation on how to protect themselves.

"Our country has suffered more than any other from the apocalyptic consequences of the nuclear tests that were conducted behind our peoples' back since 1949," he said. "The inhabitants of the area had no any idea for a long time about what was happening at the nuclear site and the danger that lay behind it. For more than forty years the uncontrolled radiation destroyed human lives and it ruined the environment of the steppes, where our ancestors lived for centuries, and where Kazakh national culture was formed."

"In all, 490 nuclear explosions were carried out on the site," Nazarbayev said. "More than a million and a half people suffered. Over 300,000 square meters of land were contaminated and left unfit for agricultural use."
The president unfavourably contrasted the long refusal of the Soviet authorities to take responsibility for the damage done by their nuclear testing, with the willingness of the United States government to approve financing to repair the ravages of nuclear testing at the main U.S. test site in the state of Nevada.

"The United States annually allocated over $1 billion for the rehabilitation of their test site in Nevada. But in the Soviet Union, such compensation did not take place," he said. "Such indifference to the fate of Kazakhstan was another argument behind our efforts to put an end to nuclear testing."

"With the weakening of the Soviet system, the public finally learned the truth about the nuclear site in the late 1980s. Then thousands of Kazakhstan citizens of different ages joined together in the anti-nuclear movement, which overwhelmed the whole country," Nazarbayev added.

"On August 29, 1991, I closed the Semipalatinsk test site by decree. In 2009, on the initiative of the government of Kazakhstan, this day was declared by the United Nations as the International Day against Nuclear Tests," he said.

Nazarbayev said his unilateral decision to shut down the infamous Semipalatinsk complex was one of the most pivotal decisions of his presidency. He said it pointed Kazakhstan permanently in the direction of peaceful international cooperation and economic growth.

"The closing of the Semipalatinsk test site was one of the first independent steps of our sovereign state," the president said. "We have taken a new democratic path. We have declared a nuclear weapons-free status of Kazakhstan. We have asserted peace and harmony in our land as the main treasure of the nation."

"Due to the closure of the Semipalatinsk test site, other nuclear testing grounds were also shut down in Nevada in the United States and at Lop Nur in China," he continued.

The Kazakh leader said he had experienced the shock waves from underground nuclear tests as a young engineer working about 500 kilometres from Semipalatinsk, and his conviction that they had to be stopped grew over the years as he uncovered the deeply hidden facts about the site.

"My views on the nuclear issue were formed at the time when I and my family lived in Temirtau," the president said. "The city is located about 500 kilometres from the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. The earthquake shocks from nuclear explosions often reached those places. With the passing of time we got used to it. However, the feeling of catastrophically destructive forces being too close did not pass away. We were told the shocks we felt had been earthquakes, although the area of Temirtau was never distinguished by seismic activity."

"Over the years, with access to more information I began to better understand the whole horror of what was happening. The vague guesses of previous years were then evidenced by hard facts," he said.

Nazarbayev said the scale of the testing that the Soviet military conducted at Semipalatinsk was still not widely appreciated around the world. It had taken an enormous human toll, he said.

"The force of the explosions produced at the Semipalatinsk test site was 2,500 times higher than the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945," the president continued. "Hundreds of thousands of the Kazakhs people became the unwilled victims of the arms race on their own land."

The sufferings caused by the Semipalatinsk testing over 40 years were even more iniquitous because they did not come during a time of war, but in an era of supposed peace, Nazarbayev remembered.

"Our ancestors bravely defended their native steppes from the most powerful invaders. But what happened on the nuclear test site took place in peacetime! That may be the most monstrous experiment in world history."
"As a politician and as a citizen, I was opposed to my homeland becoming a test laboratory. I am proud that I managed to achieve the set goal when I became the leader of an independent Kazakhstan," he continued.

The end of nuclear testing and the closure of the Semipalatinsk complex removed a great burden of fear from the people of Kazakhstan, Nazarbayev said.

"When Kazakhstan abandoned nuclear weapons, and closed the Semipalatinsk test site, we were released from a powerful psychological pressure, under which we had been trapped for nearly half a century," he said. "Only those people are truly free who live without fear. Today the people of Kazakhstan boldly face the future. They live without any more fear that they will hear one day the rumble of a nuclear explosion that makes the earth tremble."

"When we became a sovereign state, we adopted a package of targeted programmes for the rehabilitation of the Semipalatinsk region. People now receive medical care for their conditions. Soil fertility has been restored, background radiation has been normalized," he added.

Nazarbayev believes his decision to shut down Semipalatinsk 20 years was the most pivotal of his presidency and laid the foundation for his country's subsequent peaceful and exceptionally successful entry into the global economy.

"Kazakhstan has proved its peacefulness and consistency in non-proliferation issues," he said. "We enjoy the trust of foreign partners due to this. Over the past 20 years we have attracted $132 billion in direct foreign investments (FDI) to our country. That is more than all the other four Central Asian states combined could attract. We have built a dynamic economy and we are constantly improving welfare of our citizens."

 "Two decades ago, we made the biggest step towards peace and prosperity by abandoning nuclear weapons unilaterally and by embracing the way of peaceful international cooperation to attract investment," he recalled. "We have never strayed from this path."

By Alex Walters


Kazakhstan, U.S. Complete Secret Nuclear Transfer Mission

By Alex Walters

It's now almost 20 years since President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and then U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III made their epochal gentleman's agreement to team up on scrapping Kazakhstan's nuclear arsenal and ridding the newly independent nation of the dangerous nuclear military it had inherited from the Soviet Union.

It seemed the most unlikely way to assure the peace of the world from atomic war and the first unilateral military nuclear disarmament of any nation in history.

The date was Dec. 11, 1991 and Baker, secretary of state to U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush, was paying his first visit to Almaty, then the capital of Kazakhstan. It was five days before Kazakhstan was to declare independence as a free nation.

Nazarbayev, about to become the founding president of Kazakhstan, welcomed Baker to his home for dinner that night. As British historian Jonathan Aitken wrote in his definitive English language biography of Nazarbayev, the evening "included the singing of Kazakh and American songs led by (Nazarbayev's) daughter Dariga at the piano, followed by several vodka toasts to what Nazarbayev called 'A U.S.-Kazakh strategic alliance.'"

Afterwards, Nazarbayev invited Baker to take part in a banya, or steam bath, a beloved Kazakh variation on the more famous Finnish and Russian sauna. And in the usual procedures of a banya, Nazarbayev struck Baker's back with a collection of birch twigs to open up his body pores to the steam. This prompted Robert Strauss, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union who was accompanying Baker, to joke to their American Secret Service bodyguards, "Get me the President of the United States on the phone! His secretary of state is buck naked and he's being beaten by the President of Kazakhstan."

That bath in the banya had profound and lasting positive consequences for regional security and world peace. It led to 20 years of daring, top secret cooperation between the nuclear agencies of the United States and Kazakhstan that played a crucial role in guaranteeing continuing world peace.

American experts quietly flew regularly into Kazakhstan and conferred quietly with their Kazakh opposite numbers. The scale of the operations to manage the aftermath of disarmament and to safeguard the spent nuclear materials dwarfed the spy fantasies of Ian Fleming, author of the famed James Bond series.

Entire new rail systems were constructed and huge fleets of trucks hired and supervised to carry the sensitive and potential dangerous nuclear material. New facilities had to be built to house them. Even special transportation containers had to be designed and manufactured to carry them. And all these things had to be done in utter secrecy over a period of nearly two decades.

To make the challenge even harder, the Kazakh and U.S. nuclear inspectors and safety officials kept finding new caches of Soviet era material they had not been informed about. Usually it appeared that the Soviet authorities had just forgotten about it. On one occasion, Washington Post reporter David Hoffman wrote in a report in 2009, that the Kazakh and American investigators found what appeared to be an ordinary, unguarded storeroom containing simple steel buckets and canisters containing weapons-grade, 90 percent pure Uranium-235. There was enough of it there to make as many as 24 atomic bombs.

The buckets and canisters were casually set 10-feet apart from each other, Hoffman wrote. If anyone had moved them any closer, he could have set off a nuclear chain-reaction. The uranium-235 rods were "wrapped in foil, as if they were items in a picnic cooler," Hoffman wrote.

In what was later to become known as Project Sapphire, in 1994 professionals from the two countries worked together to secretly transport all of that uranium to the United States for blending down and further usage in peaceful atomic reactors.

The Kazakh and U.S. teams took that kind of experience in their stride. Behind closed doors, with a quiet efficiency and a careful discretion worthy of James Bond, their crucial work has continued into recent days.

Over the past four years, the two countries have quietly cooperated in transferring the spent nuclear fuel of the old Soviet era BN-350 nuclear reactor in the city of Aktau in western Kazakhstan – and transferring it to the former Semipalatinsk nuclear test site for dead storage.

Kazakh and U.S. experts carried out joint feasibility studies in 2007. Over the next three years, they quietly transferred material – 10 metric tonnes of highly enriched uranium and three metric tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium by rail on special trains, in metal-concrete containers. By the end of 2010 all the spent nuclear fuel – enough to make about 800 nuclear bombs – had been stored in their new facility and stored in a secure location in safety cocoons filled with inert gas.

The work was carried out under the terms of a U.S.-Kazakh nuclear weapons delimitation, or silo agreement that was concluded back on Dec. 13, 1999. The costs of building the necessary rail and other transportation facilities and storage were paid by the United States and Britain. The costs of actual transportation and safety measures were paid by the Republic of Kazakhstan.

By Nov. 15, 2010, all the spent nuclear fuel from the BN-350 reactor had been safely removed and transported to its new facilities specially designed for long-term safe storage in the former Semipalatinsk nuclear testing range.

President Nazarbayev maintained his partnership to locate, remove and safely store the lethal nuclear material his country inherited from the Soviet era through the administrations of four different U.S. presidents. Nazarbayev remained loyally committed to that policy in the face of pressures and offers from countless sources.
Radical states in different parts of the world and extremist organizations all dreamed of being able to lay their hands on some of the 1,410 nuclear warheads that Kazakhstan had inherited from the disintegrating Soviet Union. At the time, it was a larger nuclear arsenal than those of China, Britain and France combined.

If Nazarbayev had been a different kind of man – and the Kazakhs a very different people -- the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001 – 9/11 – might then have had vastly more awful, even apocalyptic consequences. So it was no wonder that the Kazakh and U.S. teams working on locating and securing the Soviet-era nuclear material took the precautions of 007 super-secret agents.

This James Bond-style secret partnership between the Americans and the Kazakhs held. There were no breaches of security. None of the sensitive nuclear material was lost or stolen. Muslim-majority Kazakhstan became the first nation in history to completely and unilaterally scrap a nuclear arsenal. Even after the work of literal nuclear disarmament was completed in 1995, the partnership continued to function over the next 15 years to trace, remove and safely store other potentially dangerous nuclear material such as the spent fuel from the BN-350 reactor.

The American and Kazakh officials involved in these super-secret operations developed a high regard for each other. Many lasting friendships were formed. But the Kazakh and American engineers and administrators involved in this vast operation seem to remember it in different ways.

To the Kazakhs, the super-secrecy was a necessary precaution and condition of their activities, but otherwise they saw it all as just another day's work. Several of them expressed mild amusement at the way so many Americans who were involved liked to see themselves as daredevil James Bonds. And sure enough, many of the American accounts seem to dramatically hype discoveries or successful transportations of nuclear fuel that the Kazakhs shrugged off as "just routine."

But there was nothing routine about the genuine passion the Kazakhs, like their American partners, brought to the mission of creating and maintaining the safety of nuclear materials. Knowledge of the deaths and suffering of more than a million people over 40 years from the more than 450 nuclear tests carried out in the Soviet era haunted them all.

In his biography of President Nazarbayev, Aitken describes vividly how when Nazarbayev, as a young man, worked as a steelmaker at Karaganda Magnitka, 200 miles to the west from the Soviet nuclear testing site at Semipalatinsk, his home would be shaken by earthquake-like tremors every time an underground nuclear test took place. "As a father, he would see his daughters so terrified by the nuclear tremors that they rushed into his arms screaming 'Papa, Papa – It's an earthquake!'"

That shared passion was the secret weapon driving 20 years of successful US-Kazakh activities to put the nuclear genie safely back in its bottle. And it all started when a visiting U.S. secretary of state listened to a young Kazakh lady play folk songs on the piano and agreed to let his Kazakh host strike his back with birch twigs in a banya two decades ago.  

Blue Print For Success: Kazakhstan’s Next 20 Years

By Colin Berlyne

Kazakhstan has come a long way in its first 20 years of revived national independence. But its leaders and people are not taking their successes for granted. The country's national development strategy builds on the work of the last two decades with plans for continued progress in the next 20 years to 2030.

Kazakhstan has already emerged as one of the globe's key suppliers of vital energy fuels including hydrocarbons – oil and natural gas – and uranium. Over the coming two decades, it is also looking to become a global food power and exporter comparable to Canada, Australia and Argentina. And it is already building a world-class, state-of-the-art network of super-highways, rail transportation routes and energy pipelines. It has also drawn up detailed plans to become an advanced industrial nation comparable to Malaysia and The Netherlands to ensure lasting prosperity.

The nation's long-term development strategy, "Kazakhstan-2030: Prosperity, Security and Improved Living Standards for all Kazakhs," was adopted by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1997, and nearly 15 years later, its success remains on track. The strategy is to serve as the Central Asian nation's guiding light for the next 20 years as well.
Kazakhstan-2030 identifies seven key priorities for the country's development.

The first of the priorities is national security. President Nazarbayev has developed and maintained "multi-vector" diplomacy to establish Kazakhstan as the cooperative heart of Eurasia. The former Soviet republic is an active and leading participant in the mix of regional security alliances that have been created since the collapse of communism. It is a member of the 11–nation Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the seven-nation Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

At the same time, Kazakhstan enjoys close relations with the United States and the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Kazakhstan remains a participant in good standing of NATO's Partnership for Peace (PFP) initiative, and it holds annual military exercises with U.S. military participants and trainers under the PFP's umbrella.

One such exercise, Operation Steppe Eagle, took place with U.S. and British participants in Kazakhstan in August 2010.
Kazakhstan currently chairs the 57-nation Organization for Islamic

Cooperation, the largest international organization of Muslim nations in the world with a combined population of around 1.3 billion people. In 2010, it successfully chaired the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and it was the first Muslim and Central Asian nation and the first nation east of Vienna, Austria (where the OSCE is headquartered), to do so. To top its chairmanship, Kazakhstan hosted the first OSCE summit in 11 years in Astana on December 1 and 2, 2010, helping to give a new boost to the security and cooperation in Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian areas.
Second, Kazakhstan has set a goal of continuing ethnic and religious harmony among its 130 ethnic groups and more than 40 religions. Kazakhstan has remained one of the very few states which appeared following the fall of the Soviet Union to have avoided any conflict or bloodshed along ethnic or religious fault lines.

To ensure that harmony continues over the next 20 years, Kazakhstan has launched a programme of grassroots democracy, public transparency and public accountability. The 2010 "We are One Team" initiative encouraged the establishment and increased public participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in identifying social problems at national and local levels. It also encourages partnerships between NGOs and institutions of government.

In his January 29, 2010 State of the Nation address, President Nazarbayev also emphasized the importance of establishing public accountability for political and state administrative bodies.
"We should establish tight parliamentary and public control," the president said. "Therefore, it is required to improve the system of reporting and estimation of activity of each law-enforcement body."

The third priority of the Kazakhstan 2030 Development Strategy remains economic growth. The widespread tolerance and optimism which defines Kazakh society rides on a steady wave of improving living standards since the establishment of national independence. To give but one example, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Kazakhstan has grown from $700 in 1994 to $12,000 in 2011 and is scheduled to reach $15,000 by 2015.

Kazakhstan was rocked by the global financial crisis and ensuing economic recession of 2008-9, which saw the collapse of three of its five largest banks. However, the financial system was rapidly stabilized and the government in Astana remains committed to the creation of an advanced industrial and technological base with the best trained work force in Central Asia as the essential basis for long-term prosperity.

In July 2010, Kazakhstan activated a new Customs Union (CU) with Russia and Belarus. It has confounded its critics and gotten off to a successful start. Already, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have announced their intentions to join it as quickly as possible.

The Customs Union, in fact, plays a crucial role in fulfilling one of Kazakhstan's national development goals over the next 20 years – to become a prosperous and successful industrial power. Kazakh economists say the CU will generate hundreds of thousands of well-paying industrial and agricultural jobs by protecting initially vulnerable domestic industries from a flood of cheap foreign imports. At the same time, the Customs Union will open up the Russian domestic market of 150 million people to exports from Kazakhstan. To add even more momentum to the three-nation integration, on the basis of the Customs Union Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus will introduce the Common Economic Space as of January 1, 2012.

"Industrial development is our chance in the new decade, bringing new possibilities for the development of the state," Nazarbayev told the people of Kazakhstan in his 2010 State of the Nation address. "Kazakhstan will be a successful industrial power. I am absolutely certain of that."

The government also remains committed to the fourth national priority - health, education and welfare for the citizens of Kazakhstan.

As of 2009, 85 percent of all Kazakhs from ages five to 24 were enrolled in educational institutions. This figure was the highest in the nation's recorded history. It also far outstripped the figures for the other nations of Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Kazakhstan rated first in the Norway-based "Education for All" development Index in 2009 out of 129 countries listed. The United Nations Development Programme ranked Kazakhstan 15th in the world for literacy in 2009. And Kazakh students in 2009 ranked 11th in the world for science achievements and fifth for mathematics achievements. These advances testify to the success of developing a scientifically and technologically literate work force for the 21st century.

Kazakhstan also celebrates its first two decades of national independence this December with a new a Unified National Health System. It is the most comprehensive and advanced in Central Asia and will reimburse health care organizations for the cost of in-patient care and hospitalization.
The fifth national priority of the 2030 strategy is the continued development of energy resources. Well over $100 billion in foreign direct investment has already been invested in Kazakhstan's energy extraction and transportation industries, of which $15 billion has come from major U.S. corporations alone. In its first 20 years of national independence, Kazakhstan has attracted a colossal total of more than $126 billion in FDI. That comprises 85 percent of the total FDI in the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

And after numerous delays, progress appears on track to bring the Kashagan super oil field to full production by 2017-18. The continuing growth in the demand for oil, especially in China, indicates likely growth in that sector the coming decades.

In addition, Kazakhstan has surpassed Canada as the world's leading annual exporter of uranium oxide, and in June this year it signed a major agreement with China to provide high grade uranium oxide for the 500 nuclear power stations China plans to build by the year 2040.
Kazakhstan is also pouring $25 billion into upgrading the nation's road and rail infrastructure over the next 20 years to fulfill the sixth national priority of the 2030 Development Strategy. Turkish and South Korean construction companies are prominent in this endeavour, which will make a living reality of the rhetoric about creating a new Silk Road across Asia.

When the vast web of new road and rail links, as well as oil and gas pipelines, is completed, container goods will be able to cross from China's east coast sea ports to Rotterdam on the western edge of Europe in only 18 days.
Finally, Kazakhstan is pushing ahead with efforts to professionalize its national administration and create the efficiency and transparency indicative of a well functioning state, which was defined back in 1997 as the country's seventh most important priority.Kazakhstan's chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010 proved to be a milestone in that effort. Many Western leaders, diplomats and observers praised what they referred to as the professionalism of Kazakhstan's diplomats and foreign ministry officials in working with the diplomats of other nations and with other international organizations to ensure the success of their chairmanship.

The government of Kazakhstan has also invested heavily in sending thousands of its most promising students to work and study throughout Europe and North America as a key part of its Bolashak (Future) programme to create a class of highly-skilled, internationally-minded professions.

In his 2010 State of the Nation address, Nazarbayev stressed this element of creating an efficient, truly professional modern state. "Quality of higher education will meet the highest international standards," he said. "Universities of the country should strive to enter the ratings on par with the leading world universities." One such university is the new Nazarbayev University, established in 2010, which has been introducing innovative teaching methodologies into the country in partnership with major international universities.

As Kazakhstan enters its third decade of national independence, the 2030 Development Strategy remains on track to deliver continuing progress over the country's next 20 years.  

Islam in Kazakhstan: Modern and Moderate

By Alex Walters

The patterns of Islamic teaching, practice and tolerance among the Kazakh people have been remarkably consistence since the faith was first preached in the steppes of Central Asia in the eighth century. Islam in those days spread through the flourishing trade between those east and west of the Silk Road, the greatest route of commerce in the ancient world.

"The Kazakh tribes were a wandering nomadic people. And therefore they laid great emphasis on the values of hospitality, generosity and gratitude," Alina Khamatdinova, the director of the Civic Alliance of Kazakhstan, told Edge Magazine. "The harshness of the steppe environment made life difficult. No one could survive it on their own. They could only do so as part of a community. And the communities had to learn to trust each other and to cooperate with each other."

Today, Kazakhstan is once more the hub of a rapidly growing web of communications and trade across the Eurasian land mass. And just as Islam was inclusive, tolerant and successful in those early days across the steppe, the modern practice of Islam in Kazakhstan remains the same today.

The traditions of Islam in the Kazakh lands were also shaped by the era in which they arrived. Islam came to the steppes very early, little more than a century after the life and teachings of the prophet himself. It was the era of the great caliphates of Damascus, Bagdad, and Cordoba – the greatest centres of learning, science, culture and tolerance in the world for half a millennium.

Through the peaceful activities of missionaries, Islam gradually but steadily spread to become the dominant faith of the Kazakh peoples. Their lifestyle and culture as nomads, herders and traders spread the faith to the farthest and most remote corners of the steppe. And today, the re-establishment of the institutions of the faith is being encouraged and is flourishing after the long, dark age of religious repression during the Soviet era.

Even before Kazakhstan became fully independent from the Soviet Union, the foundations for a revival of the Islamic faith were underway. In 1990, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was then running the country as first secretary of the Communist party of Kazakhstan, defied the Kremlin by pulling Kazakhstan out of the Muslim Board of Central Asia. The board had been Moscow's main body to control and limit Islam throughout the region. Nazarbayev replaced it with an independent muftiate, or Muslim religious authority, for all the practicing Muslims in Kazakhstan. With that move, Kazakhstan broke from the religious limitations of the Soviet Union and signaled that the revival of Islam would be supported and fostered at the highest levels of the re-emerging independent nation.

Nazarbayev and his colleagues also took care from the earliest days of national independence to protect and preserve the traditionally moderate and tolerant traditions of Hanafi Islam in Kazakhstan. In 1993, the new constitution of Kazakhstan expressly ruled out the existence of religious political parties. The separation of religion from politics was ensured by this crucial act.
Two years later, the revised Constitution of 1995 went further by outlawing any group that tried to stir up racial, ethnic or religious conflict in the country. It also gave the government the power to closely monitor and restrain the activities within Kazakhstan of religious organizations from outside the country. In this way, Kazakhstan was able to insulate itself from the extreme religious conflicts that have convulsed a number of other nations in Asia.

The 1995 Constitution, as did its predecessor, also stipulated that Kazakhstan is and will be a secular state.
When Nazarbayev established the Muftiate of Kazakhstan, he chose Ratbek Nisanbayev to be its first leader, or mufti. Nisanbayev agreed that bringing Islam into politics would be harmful to both the nation and to the practice of the faith within it. He publically and repeatedly stated that any Islamist political party in Kazakhstan would create a "breach of peace."

The government of Kazakhstan, however, did not try to discourage the spread of Islam in the country. On the contrary, the government actively encouraged it. As a result, the faith, and not just the Islamic faith, has dramatically flourished in conditions of tolerance, confidence and freedom in the two decades since independence.

By 2010, 65 percent of the 16.4 million people in Kazakhstan were Muslims. The Blue Mosque in the new capital Astana was built to house 7,000 people. Instead, more than 14,000 people flock to its main prayer service every Friday.

In the summer of 2011, Kazakhstan also created an Agency for Religious Affairs, a government body whose job it is to coordinate the state activities regarding religions, to prevent any abuses by religious organizations in the country and to make sure the traditions of tolerance and freedom of belief are protected. It was that Agency that put together a new bill on religious activities in the fall of 2011 which was passed by the Parliament and signed into law by President Nazarbayev in October 2011. This law, upholding the religious freedom and tolerance for all religions, for the firs t time in Kazakhstan's history also highlighted the traditional role of Islam, as well as Russian Orthodox Christianity, as the two most widely spread religions in the country.

The country also recognized that for Islam to flourish, Kazakhstan would have to re-enter the Ummah, the great global community of 1.3 billion Muslims, from which it had been forcibly separated through 74 years of Soviet rule. Kazakhstan's chairing of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation this year is a fitting achievement to crown 20 years of successful efforts in this regard since the establishment of national independence.

Financial aid and other support for the building of new mosques and teaching institutions in Kazakhstan since independence has come primarily from Turkey, Egypt and, most of all, from Saudi Arabia. Kazakhstan has established flourishing relations with those nations and the small states of the Arabian, or Persian, Gulf. Every year, thousands of Kazakh Muslims freely and joyously fulfill the hajj, the greatest annual religious pilgrimage in the world.
President Nazarbayev has also set a personal example in leading this process. He has paid high-profile state visits to leading nations of the Ummah such as Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia while pursuing the goal of making Kazakhstan a bridge linking East and West, North and South. And in 1994, he visited the most holy of Muslim sites, Mecca.X
The dramatic rise in the observance of Muslim laws regarding the purity of food, especially meat, is another testament to the constructive religious revival that has occurred in the country. As recently as 2000, it was extremely difficult to buy Halal meat anywhere in Kazakhstan and there was almost no domestic demand for it. Today, more than 500 Kazakh companies produce and sell Halal meat, making Kazakhstan Central Asia's main Halal meat producer. And in 2006, Kazakhstan established a rigorous process of official certification for its producers of Halal meat.

But despite the strict standards for Halal meat and other religious observances, the practice of Islam in Kazakhstan remains an entirely moderate and voluntary one. The culture of Islam in Kazakhstan is one of tolerance and understatement. The presence and importance of the religion is immediately apparent to the visitor, but not overwhelming. And those who choose observances such as hijabs – traditional Muslim head coverings worn by women – mix freely and comfortably with others who wear modern miniskirts or enjoy a cocktail at the country's many nightclubs and restaurants.

The beauty of the revival of Islam in Kazakhstan is that it is both flourishing in the modern world, while retaining the tolerance and inclusion that marked its arrival on the Kazakh steppes all those centuries ago.  

The Kazakh Steppe: The Land Where the Horse was Tamed

By Colin Berlyne

Kazakhstan, believed to be the birthplace of the apple and the country from which the first man was sent into space, is now also thought to be the land where man first tamed the wild horse.

Archaeologists have discovered new evidence of a horse-herding culture in the steppes of Central Asia where Kazakh ancestral tribes emerged more than 5,500 years ago. This is far earlier than the evidence for the domestication of horses or their use in war in Ancient China, Egypt or the Mesopotamia.

Alan Outram, a British archaeologist from the University of Exeter, told National Geographic Magazine in October 2009 that his research team had discovered evidence that pushed back the earliest signs of the widespread riding and milking of horses by 1,000 to 2,000 years from previous estimates. Outram and his colleagues published their research in the October 2009 issue of the prestigious international journal "Science."

Outram and his colleagues excavated the remains of horses from the Botai region of northern Kazakhstan. Radiocarbon dating established that these remains were around 5,500 years old – a period far earlier than the Old Kingdom of Egypt or the ancient Sumerian culture of Mesopotamia and even before the Mohenjo-Daro civilization of modern Pakistan.

The teeth of these small steppe horses showed unmistakable evidence of having been subjected to bits – an indication that they were used either for riding or pulling carts. They also found broken pieces of pottery used by the Botai culture that still contained elements of fat from horses and their milk. This was clear evidence that the steppe horses were already being used at this early date to provide both meat and milk – substances which remain prized in Kazakh cuisine and culture today.
The researchers also found that the horse bones they excavated were slender – a sure sign throughout history of domesticated and carefully bred horses, not of wild ones that had not been subjected to controlled and selective breeding.

Outram's discoveries are also consistent with a wider emerging body of evidence that many of the key developments in human civilization and agriculture took place across the vast steppes of the heartland of Asia, and not just in the river valleys of the Middle East and southern and Eastern Asia, as archaeologists for so long assumed.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of towns, and therefore of urban civilization, in the territories of modern Kazakhstan far earlier than experts previously assumed. And even before Outram's work, clear evidence had been uncovered that the horse was domesticated in the Asian steppes at least 3,100 to 3,600 years ago in the Botai region – a period of time parallel with the New Kingdom of Egypt and the Minoan Empire of ancient Crete.

This previous evidence was more circumstantial than the latest findings. The early findings uncovered primitive tools for working leather that suggested, first, that cattle were being domesticated to provide the leather and hides and, second, that the leather was being worked to make harnesses that could only have been used on horses, not cattle.

Western and Kazakh archaeologists had merely hoped to find more confirmation of these first findings in the Botai region. But the Outram team was surprised by the amount of confirmation they actually uncovered and, most of all, by the far earlier dates that their data belonged to.

The new finds also suggest that the traditional practices of the ancient Kazakh tribes -- eating the meat of their horses and drinking their milk as well as using them for transportation – go back thousands of years to the dawn of civilization. They also suggest that the spirit of innovation and technology in ancient history did not come only from towns and densely populated river valley cultures on the rims of Africa and Asia, but also from the heart of the "grass ocean" of the steppe.

Though the larger world's discovery of Kazakhstan's early domestication of the horse is recent, Kazakh scholars have long argued that their homeland was the origin of the taming of the horse. The location, climatic and environmental demands of steppe life would have logically focused the ingenuity and expertise of its people in this direction as essential skills to their survival. The latest findings confirm these long held local beliefs.

As National Geographic noted when it reported Outram's discoveries, the domestication of the horse and their subsequent employment as draught animals or beasts of burden "transformed human society by speeding up transport, making long-distance trading more feasible and opening up new styles of warfare." This development has therefore long been recognized as being one of the most important advances in early human history.

It is striking that the archaeological evidence to solve this age-old mystery was found in Kazakhstan, the same country that today is home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome from which cosmonaut Yury Gagarin was launched to become the first human being in space half a century ago.

The popularity and significance of the horse in Kazakh culture today remains strong. New hippodromes -- or racetracks -- have opened in Almaty, the nation's largest city, and in Kazakhstan's new capital Astana. Equestrian sports centers have sprung up and horse trekking in the nation's national parks and mountains are popular pastimes.
Kazakhstan has emerged from the mists of history as both the most modern and ancient of nations along the fabled Silk Road. And its long-cherished equestrian culture has now revealed to have provided a giant gallop forward for human progress.  

Soviet Nuclear Testing Took Toll on Kazakh Lives

By Alex Walters

Kazakhstan ended nuclear testing on its soil even before gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. But the toll four decades of Soviet weapons testing took on the Kazakh public continues to this day.

For 40 years, from 1949 to 1989, the Soviet Union carried out no less than 456 nuclear tests at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan. For the first 14 years, until the signing of the Atmospheric Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in 1963, 116 of them were atmospheric tests. The people of the Semipalatinsk region eventually came to fear and loath the tests. But until the attainment of national independence in December 1991, the actual human and environmental costs were hidden from the Kazakh people.

Dr. Helen Caldicott of Australia, a leading nuclear disarmament proponent and founder of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization, "International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War," wrote about the likely human cost of the Soviet tests in her book, "The New Nuclear Danger."

"From 1949 to 1963 the testing of nuclear weapons at Semipalatinsk exposed over 1.5 million people to radiation. In fact, officials in the Commonwealth of Independent States now admit that millions have been injured or have died because of radioactive fall-out."

The testing of atomic (nuclear) and even more powerful hydrogen (thermonuclear) bombs were covered in secrecy by the Soviet Union and were born in lies. Soviet secret police chief, nuclear testing leader and right hand man to Joseph Stalin, Lavrenty Beria, claimed at the beginning of testing that the 18,000 square kilometre steppe region where the bombs were tested was uninhabited. But it wasn't.

The very first bomb test, called Operation First Lightning, was carried out in the early hours of August 29, 1949. The bomb was placed on top of a makeshift tower and detonated. A few weeks later high altitude weather balloons detected that significant radioactive fall-out from the test was being carried around the world in the atmospheric jet stream.

The tests continued but Beria failed to evacuate anyone from the nearby villages. The site was also only 40 miles west of the city of Kurchatov. The Soviet authorities went on to carry out another 115 more atmospheric nuclear tests in the Semipalatinsk region over the next 14 years.

Eighty-four year-old Anastasya Kiseleva lived in the village of Kanonerka at the time and the images of the nuclear mushroom clouds she saw remain unforgettable. "We all ran to the testing mushroom when it went up. We didn't know what that was," she said recently.

But Kiseleva soon saw firsthand the toll radiation fall-out from the test was taking.

After the early tests, "most of the women (in the village) couldn't walk," she said. "It affected their health, legs and arms."

Today, after any nuclear accident, residents up to dozens of miles away are warned to stay indoors and close all windows. But after those first tests, Soviet officials gave the exact opposite and worst advice. "Soldiers alerted us about explosions. They passed along the street and told us, 'Open your windows, and open your doors during the nuclear tests'," Kiseleva said.

Kiseleva was one of the lucky ones, relatively speaking. But she too has paid a price. "We didn't realize that in the future it can affect our health," she said. "And in due course I lost my teeth very early and my legs are ill."

Proskovya Koloskova was born in 1924. From 1951 to 1953 she lived in the village of Chaganay near the main testing site.

"The explosions took place quite often," she said. "They gave a dull, rumbling sound from far away. Then a shock wave would follow. At first, we thought it was an earthquake. At home on the cupboards the dishes shook. I was 22 years old, still a young girl. Before the explosion started we went out to the streets and opened the doors and windows, we didn't know any better. We never dreamed it would have such terrible consequences for us."

Those consequences included heartbreak for Kiseleva. "In 1953, I gave birth to my son," she said. "I think the nuclear tests destroyed his health. He died of kidney disease."

Nina Kolesnikova, born in 1928, suffered a similar tragedy in her life. In August 1954, she lived in the city of Semipalatinsk, which was close to the test site. "The tests took place every week," she said. "We didn't imagine that the tests could bring us so many disasters."

"After the tests, I gave birth to my son," Kolesnikova said. "His birth was very difficult and my son was feeble ... He always had very serious health problems. Eventually he fell victim to a nasty illness and I lost him in 2010 at the age of 54."

"The nuclear tests affected my whole family," Kolesnikova said. "All my life I have had problems with my health. My legs swell and I have had many other illnesses."

The Soviet authorities, Kolesnikova said, showed limited and belated compassion to the victims of radiation fallout from the tests. "My husband and I never got any support from the Soviet government," she said. "But they did at least pay some cash benefits to my son."  

Recalling all these events in her mid-80s, Kalesnokova came to a simple, clear conclusion about the future of nuclear bomb tests. "My opinion is that nuclear test sites around the world should all be closed earlier," she said. "Better still, they should never be started."

In the course of the early 1950s, the nuclear testing area was expanded to the region of the Chagan River and Chagan Lake. After atmospheric tests were banned in 1963, later tests took place underground in the Chagan region in Murzhik to the west and in the Degelen region to the south which had many porous boreholes and drift formations in its geological composition.

As a result, the Kazakh people were forced to cope with a generations-long dark heritage of suffering and horror from the Soviet nuclear tests.

They were finally ended just prior to independence by Kazakhstan's first President Nursultan Nazarbayev who also led Kazakhstan to become the first nation to unilaterally eliminate its nuclear arsenal.

Today, the Kazakh people are still trying to ensure that the tragic suffering and losses of the victims of the nuclear tests were not paid in vain.

As victim Anastasya Kiseleva said, "God forbid that these things should ever be repeated! My lifelong wish and prayer remains, 'That all future generation never have to know all that we have known'."