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Last Updated: June, 2014

Kazakhstan inherited nuclear-tipped missiles, a nuclear weapon test site, and biological and chemical weapon production facilities when the Soviet Union collapsed. In its first decade of independence, Kazakhstan dismantled and destroyed Soviet weapons systems and facilities left on its territory, and signed major international nonproliferation treaties.


When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, Kazakhstan inherited 1,410 nuclear warheads and the Semipalatinsk nuclear weapon test site. By April 1995 Kazakhstan had repatriated its nuclear warhead inventory back to Russia, destroying the nuclear testing infrastructure at Semipalatinsk by July 2000. [1] However, weapons-grade nuclear material remains in Kazakhstan, including three metric tons of plutonium moved to Semipalatinsk for secure storage and significant amounts of civil highly enriched uranium (HEU) [2]. Approximately 600 kilograms of weapons-grade HEU was removed to the United States from the Ulba Metallurgy Plant in 1994 under a joint U.S.-Kazakh operation known as Project Sapphire. Under the U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), 74 kilograms of HEU were removed from the VVRK research reactor at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Almaty and transported to Russia in 2009. [3] An additional 33 kilograms were removed and downblended into LEU in 2011, with U.S. assistance. [4] In September 2012, the VVRK reactor began testing LEU fuel from Russia as part of plans to eliminate the need for HEU fuel in Kazakhstan. [5]

Kazakhstan is home to some of the world's most abundant uranium deposits, making it a key contributor to nuclear fuel supplies around the globe. In 2011 Kazakhstan increased uranium production to almost 20,000 tons, making it the largest uranium producing country. Russia, China, and Japan all export significant percentages of uranium supplies from Kazakhstan. Established in 1997 by the Kazakh government, Kazatomprom controls all of the country's uranium exploration, mining and other nuclear activities. [6]

Although Kazakhstan currently does not generate nuclear power, the country is exploring assistance from Russia and Japan in constructing nuclear power plants. Russian proposals have focused on Aktau, where a Russian BN-350 fast reactor once operated. Although Kazakhstan had been studying the feasibility of a Japanese advanced boiling water reactor near Lake Balkash, a February 2013 memorandum of understanding put this location in question. Plans for light water reactors in other regions of the country are under consideration. [7]

Kazakhstan is a party to START-I, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The country signed an Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in February 2004 and is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The foreign ministers of the five Central Asian States — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — signed a treaty establishing a Central Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (CANWFZ) on 8 September 2006. On 19 February 2007, Kazakh President Nazarbayev signed a law approving the country's Additional Protocol to its nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA.


Kazakhstan housed the world's largest (Soviet) bioweapons plant in Stepnogorsk during the Cold War, and is now home to a significant number of anti-plague facilities that were part of the Soviet biological warfare (BW) effort. [8] In June 2007, Kazakhstan acceded to the Biological Toxin and Weapons Convention (BTWC). Kazakh President Nazarbayev has declared Kazakhstan's commitment to biological weapons nonproliferation. Kazakhstan is not a member of the Australia Group.

In 1993, Kazakhstan created a civilian body, the National Center for Biotechnology, to oversee the administration of most of the former BW facilities in Kazakhstan. These facilities include the following: Biomedpreparat, a large-scale biological production facility located in Stepnogorsk; the Scientific Research Agricultural Institute (SRAI) at Otar, which specializes in crop and livestock diseases; and Biokombinat, a small mobilization production facility located in Almaty that now produces vaccines. [9] Kazakhstan reorganized these facilities in August 2005 under the National Center for Biotechnology of the Republic of Kazakhstan, with the goal of conducting research and creating a profitable domestic biotechnology industry. The Kazakh Scientific Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases (KSCQZD) (formerly known as the Central Asian Anti-Plague Research Institute) was also involved in the Soviet defensive BW system and is now under the jurisdiction of the Kazakh Ministry of Health. [10] Both KSCQZI and SRAI house extensive collections of virulent strains of human, animal, and plant pathogens. Under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, Biomedpreparat has been dismantled and safety and security have been upgraded at KSCQZI and SRAI. In December 2004, the United States and Kazakhstan signed an amendment to a bilateral agreement that will expand cooperation against the threat of bioterrorism through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. With completion expected in summer 2013, CTR’s Cooperative Biological Engagement program is funding the construction of the Central Reference Laboratory at KSCQZI to secure Especially Dangerous Pathogens. [11] The goal of U.S.-Kazakhstan cooperation in this area is to counter the threat of bioterrorism and prevent proliferation of biological weapons technology, pathogens, and expertise at their source.


Kazakhstan inherited one Soviet chemical weapons production plant in the city of Pavlodar. Pavlodar was intended to replace aging plants in Volgograd and Novocheboksarsk (Russia) and to produce binary agents like "novichok" but the facility never actually manufactured chemical weapons themselves – only precursor chemicals. [12] The plant's construction was halted in 1987, after the Soviet Union became involved in CWC-related negotiations, so it never produced any chemical warfare agents. Kazakhstan joined the CWC in March 2000. However, Kazakhstan submitted a nil declaration, leaving out the Pavlodar facility. [13] In 2005, the plant filed for bankruptcy, and was purchased in March 2007 by Bazalt-PV for 1.57 billion tenges ($11 million). [14]


Kazakhstan inherited 104 R-36M (GRAU: 15A14; NATO SS-18 Satan) intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from the Soviet missile complex. All ICBMs were transferred to Russia for dismantlement by September 1996 and missile silos and silo structures were destroyed under the U.S. Department of Defense Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program by September 1999. [15] Gidromash, an Almaty-based Soviet-era producer of submarine-launched missiles, was converted to a civilian commercial enterprise under CTR's Industrial Partnerships Program. [16]

However, Kazakhstan still possesses a small arsenal of Soviet era short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) consisting of the OTR-21 Tochka-U (NATO: SS-21-B Scarab-B) and the R-300 Elbrus (NATO: SS-1C Scud-B).

Kazakhstan has an active space industry and inherited the Baikonur Cosmodrome from the Soviet Union. Baikonur is used for international space launches, including all Russian launches to the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally, Russia leases a segment of the Baikonur Cosmodrome for ballistic missile testing. Kazakhstan also inherited the Sary-Shagan anti-ballistic missile testing ground from the Soviet Union, and now leases the complex to Russia for continued ballistic missile defense testing. Kazakhstan's space industry provides it with dual-use technology and expertise; however, the country is committed to nonproliferation efforts and has shown no interest in pursuing a ballistic missile program.

Kazakhstan closely cooperates with Russia in air and missile defense. On 30 December 2013, Russia ratified an agreement for the “Creation of a Joint Regional Air Defense System of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Kazakhstan,” which will be an integral part of the Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS) joint air defense infrastructure. [17] Russia has exported S-300PS (NATO: SA-10D Grumble) and S-300PMU-1 (NATO: SA-20 Gargoyle) surface-to-air missile systems to Kazakhstan. [18]

[1] Syed Adnan and Athar Bukhari, "Cooperative threat reduction: Case study of Kazakhstan – Analysis," Eurasia Review, 13 June 2011, www.eurasiareview.com.
[2] "Global fissile material report 2011: Nuclear weapon and fissile material stockpiles and production," International Panel on Fissile Materials Sixth Annual Report, 2011; "Global threat reduction programme: shut down of Soviet plutonium-producing reactor at Aktau," 19 January 2013, www.gov.uk.
[3] World Nuclear Association, "Kazakh HEU Returned to Russia," World Nuclear News, Last modified 20 May 2009, www.world-nuclear-news.org.
[4] National Nuclear Security Administration, "NNSA and Kazakhstan Complete Operation to Eliminate Highly Enriched Uranium," News release, 12 October 2011.
[5] Pavel Podvig, "Kazakhstan begins tests of LEU fuel for VVR-K reactor,"International Panel on Fissile Materials (blog), 11 September 2012, http://fissilematerials.org.
[6] "Uranium and Nuclear Power in Kazakhstan," World Nuclear Association, 1 March 2013, www.world-nuclear.org.
[7] "Japan-Kazakhstan cooperation moves to next level," World Nuclear News, 19 February 2013, www.world-nuclear-news.org.
[8] Togzhan Kassenova, "Biological threat reduction in Central Asia," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 18 July 2008, www.thebulletin.org.
[9] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev, and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet biological weapons facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present, and Future," CNS Occasional Paper, June 1999, www.nonproliferation.org.
[10] Alevtina Izvekova, "International assistance for Anti-Plague facilities in the Former Soviet Union to prevent proliferation of biological weapons," Nuclear Threat Initiative Analysis, 1 June 2005, www.nti.org
[11] "Fiscal year (FY) 2013 President's Budget Submission: Chemical and biological defense program," Department of Defense, February 2012, http://comptroller.defense.gov; "Fiscal year 2013 budget estimates: United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)," Department of Defense, February 2012, http://comptroller.defense.gov; "Central Reference Laboratory in Almaty," United States Embassy in Kazakhstan, 19 January 2011, http://kazakhstan.usembassy.gov.
[12] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, "The Pavlodar Chemical Weapons Plant in Kazakhstan: History and Legacy," The Nonproliferation Review, Summer 2000, p. 141.
[13] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, "The Pavlodar Chemical Weapons Plant in Kazakhstan: History and Legacy," The Nonproliferation Review, Summer 2000, p. 143.
[14] "Kazakhstan: Pavlodar chemical plant's bankruptcy proceedings discussed," Kazinvest, 5 July 2007, www.kazinvest.kz.
[15] "R-36 / SS-18 SATAN," Federation of American Scientists, 29 July 2000, www.fas.org.
[16] Bagila Bukharbayeva,"Former Soviet missile factory is rare success story of U.S. defense conversion program," Associated Press Worldstream, 14 December 2004, Retrieved from LexisNexis.
[17] “Law on Ratification of Agreement between Russia and Kazakhstan on Creation of a Joint Regional Air Defense System,” Russian Presidential Executive Office, 30 December 2013, eng.kremlin.ru.
[18] "Russia to Boost Air Defenses with Ex-Soviet States," RIA Novosti, 19 November 2010, en.rian.ru.

Get the Facts on Kazakhstan
  • Transferred 1,410 nuclear warheads to Russia following the Soviet collapse
  • Over 10,000 kg of HEU and 3,000 kg of Pu leftover from the Soviet era remain on Kazakh territory
  • Once home to the world's largest anthrax production facility at Stepnogorsk

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.