The ATOM Project, the online petition campaign launched by Kazakhstan in 2012, has been steadily raising its voice and expanding its reach as it urges the world to enact a comprehensive nuclear test ban. With an activist pope, who wrote to express his hope for a nuclear-weapon-free world in December and a global security situation that looks more perilous by the day, 2014 was a year of increased urgency – and increased attention.
In 2014, the world saw Russia’s taking over of Crimea and an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Russia announced that it has the right to deploy nuclear weapons in the Crimean peninsula, the Los Angeles Times reported in December, as it now considers Crimea to be part of a nation that owns nuclear weapons in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Ukraine, along with Kazakhstan, renounced its enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. While there is no indication that Russia actually plans to shift nuclear weapons to the Crimean peninsula, the possibility of a return of nuclear weapons to what was Ukrainian soil is a sobering idea.
As conflicts flared, however, prominent voices joined the call for peace, and for specific, concrete steps for achieving it. As 2014 drew to a close, Pope Francis declared that deterrence could no longer justify the holding of nuclear weapons in a reversal of the Catholic Church’s Cold War position at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (Dec. 8 – 9).
“Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states. The youth of today and tomorrow deserve far more. … Now is the time to counter the logic of fear with the ethic of responsibility, and so foster a climate of trust and sincere dialogue,” his statement said. He added that “the future and survival of the human family” was dependent on making a world without nuclear weapons a reality.
The ATOM Project’s Honorary Ambassador Karipbek Kuyukov also took part in the Vienna conference, again providing personal testimony about the impact of weapons testing on his life and the lives of his community and showcasing examples of his artwork that deal with the weapons and the landscape they have devastated.
Kuyukov has traveled the world with The ATOM Project last year. Just prior to the conference, Kuyukov addressed the ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) Civil Society forum along with other speakers including activists, judges, physicians, heads of international nongovernmental organizations and other notable campaigners for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
In February, he spoke at the Russell Senate Building in the United States, addressing an audience of U.S. senators, nuclear nonproliferation activists and members of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and introducing a documentary film by The ATOM Project showing the devastation wreaked by nuclear weapons in Eastern Kazakhstan.
Senator Ed Markey and Senator Jeff Merkley announced at the event that they would be introducing the SANE (Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures) Act to Congress, a bill that would cut $100 billion from the U.S. nuclear budget. (The bill has not been put to a vote.)
The ATOM Project and Kuyukov also took active part in events organized to mark UN International Day Against Nuclear Tests on Aug. 29.
In 2009, the UN Declared Aug. 29 – the date in 1991 that President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing site – UN International Day Against Nuclear Tests. The date was first marked in 2010, and has been recognized since then with speeches, events and memorials.
In 2014, The ATOM Project organized events around the world to honor the victims of nuclear testing and to push for its end on that day. In the lead-up to the day, the project participated in forums and discussions, including the 21st Congress of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in Astana, which, in addition to assessing the progress toward the organization’s stated goals of nuclear abolition and the prevention of armed violence, also offered “a chance to reconnect with an important part of IPPNW’s history, and to take inspiration from our successful work to halt nuclear testing as we step up the campaign to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons entirely,” according to the group’s newsletter following the event.
“The historical backdrop was IPPNW’s participation in the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement and massive public protests that led to the closing of the nuclear test sites and the moratorium on testing in both the former Soviet Union and the United States. Kazakhstan was one of the former Soviet republics (Ukraine and Belarus were the others) that renounced nuclear weapons and returned the missiles and warheads based on their territories to Russia at the end of the Cold War. Since then, the Kazakh government has been an outspoken advocate for a nuclear-weapons-free world.”
Naturally, the letter stated, the gathered participants heard a great deal from those who had experienced the consequences of nuclear testing, including Kuyukov.
The ATOM Project also called for an international moment of silence around the world at 11:05 local time to honor all victims of nuclear weapons testing, with 11:05 representing the Roman letter V for victory. An exhibition of The ATOM Project’s work so far opened on Aug. 27 in Malaysia’s National Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
Founder and International Coordinator of PNND Alyn Ware summed up The ATOM Project’s impact so far in a written interview with EdgeKZ on Jan. 16.
“The ATOM Project has had a considerable impact on a range of constituencies to encourage nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament efforts. There are many people – including youth and those not deeply involved in the nuclear weapons issue – that do not know about the health and environmental impact of nuclear testing.” The ATOM Project, he said, through its speakers, documentary films, art and photo exhibitions and social media campaigns, “has put a human face on the issue – connecting with people more than if it was just producing facts and figures.”
“The human face that The ATOM Project brings to the campaign is inspiring and connects people with the issue. The art of Karipbek Kuyukov and the positive nuclear disarmament initiatives of Kazakhstan inspire people much more than campaigns which only focus on the problems. The petition enables anyone to take action,” Ware said.
For his work of decades, with The ATOM Project and with the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement, Kuyukov was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 by William Kidd, co-president of PNND and a member of the Scottish Parliament. “I am honored to submit a joint nomination of Nursultan Nazarbayev (President of Kazakhstan) and Karipbek Kuyukov (Honorary Ambassador of The ATOM Project) for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize for their dedicated and effective actions, over many years, to highlight the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and for their leadership in promoting a nuclear-weapon-free world,” Kidd wrote.
Kidd called Kuyukov “a hero of the nuclear age” for working to make the public aware of the human and environmental costs of nuclear weapons and weapons testing. “Along with The ATOM Project … Karipbek is reaching millions of people through their website, social media, exhibitions, short online films (available in many languages), and by an online global petition on ending nuclear testing and achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world,” he wrote.
Kuyukov wrapped up his year’s work in an editorial for The Diplomat on Dec. 5. “The Cold War – and the constant fear of nuclear war – were among the darkest periods in humanity’s history. We had all hoped that those days were behind us. But in recent months, we have seen a disturbing revival of tensions between Russia and the West. Old wounds have been re-opened. There is talk of a return to Cold War brinkmanship and even development of new nuclear weapons. The slow but steady progress made towards ending the nuclear threat is in danger of being reversed. We need to step back from this precipice,” he wrote.
This year began with more recognition of The ATOM Project’s work: the Kazakh postal system has issued two stamps honoring The ATOM Project and its goal. Later, in August, the world will mark the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a sad reminder of the awful potential of nuclear weapons and a date activists must be hoping to harness to bring more attention to their work in eliminating them. Activists of The ATOM Project plan more events throughout the year, around the world and in Kazakhstan, including around the key date of Aug. 29.
Having drawn the public’s eye to the devastation of nuclear testing, Ware says he hopes to see The ATOM Project expand its scope, drawing ambassadors from other testing sites like the Marshall Islands, Polynesia, Nevada, Maralinga and Lop Nor, showing the public how their world has already been affected by nuclear testing and what they have the power to do about it.