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Last Updated: April, 2015

After declaring independence in December 1991, Kazakhstan's government decided to renounce nuclear weapons, and, by April 1995, it had transferred all of its nuclear warheads to Russia. Dismantlement of the nuclear testing infrastructure at Semipalatinsk was also completed by July 2000.

When the USSR collapsed in December 1991, Kazakhstan inherited the fourth largest nuclear arsenal in the world after Russia, the United States and Ukraine. This arsenal included 104 SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 40 Tu-95 strategic bombers with air-launched cruise missiles-comprising approximately 1,410 nuclear warheads in total. [1] Additionally, Kazakhstan possessed the Former Soviet Union's Semipalatinsk nuclear weapons test site. After declaring independence in December 1991, Kazakhstan's government decided to renounce nuclear weapons, and, by April 1995, it had transferred all of its nuclear warheads to Russia. Dismantlement of the nuclear testing infrastructure at Semipalatinsk was also completed by July 2000. [2]

In 1994, a joint U.S.-Kazakhstan operation named Project Sapphire removed approximately 600kg of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) to the United States from the Ulba Metallurgy Plant. [3] Project Sapphire also involved the 2001 removal of 2,900kg of nuclear fuel (enriched up to 26% U-235) from the Mangyshlak Atomic Energy Combine in Aktau. The material at Mangyshlak was transferred to Ulba, where it was down-blended into non-weapons usable forms of uranium for use in commercial and scientific activities. [4]

Approximately 10,590 to 10,940 kilograms (including at least 20kg in fresh fuel, and the remainder in spent fuel) of HEU and 3,000kg of plutonium remained at the now shutdown BN-350 fast-breeder reactor in Aktau, Kazakhstan, until November 2010, when the entire inventory was transported to the long-term Baikal-1 depository at Semipalatinsk in northeast Kazakhstan. [5] However, Kazakhstan still stores a small amount of HEU at two civilian nuclear institutes with operational research reactors. [6] Efforts to convert the VVR-K reactor at the Institute of Nuclear Physics, located in the Alatau region, are ongoing under the U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative program. [7] In January 2015, the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration announced that an additional 36 kilograms of HEU spent fuel had been removed from the Institute. [8] Kazakh authorities have indicated, however, that conversion of this facility is not yet complete. [9]

Kazakhstan is the world's largest producer of natural uranium, accounting for 38% of world supply extracted from mines in 2014. [10] It also seeks to promote economic development through civilian nuclear cooperation programs. [11] Evidence of this strategy can be seen in the recent expansion of nuclear cooperation with with China and India. [12] In 2014, 55% of Kazakh uranium was exported to China as part of a deal between Kazatomprom, the country's state-owned nuclear energy company, and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN). This agreement was extended in 2015 and outlines the potential for Kazakhstan to produce fuel assemblies for use in Chinese reactors. Furthermore, Kazatomprom holds a 10% stake in the International Uranium Enrichment Center based in Angarsk, Russia. [13]

Although a Russian BN-350 fast reactor operated in Aktau, Kazakhstan from 1973-1999, Kazakhstan does not currently generate nuclear power. In recent years, however, Kazakhstan has expressed interest in building nuclear power plants on its territory and has explored the potential for various international partnerships in this endeavor. In April 2010, Kazakhstan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with South Korea that covered the export of Korean SMART 100 MWe nuclear reactors. [14] In 2011, the governments of India and Kazakhstan signed an Agreement on Cooperation in Peaceful Nuclear Energy, a follow-on to a 2009 agreement between the two countries that included a feasibility study on building Indian pressurized heavy water reactors in Kazakhstan. [15] Recently, Kazakhstan has been engaged in talks with both Russian-owned Rosatom and Japanese-owned Toshiba over construction of power reactors at two locations in the country, Kurchatov and Lake Balkhash. [16] In April 2015, a representative of Rosatom in Kazakhstan announced that an agreement between the Russian company and Kazakhstan to build a nuclear power plant in the Kurchatov region would be signed in the first half of the year. [17] Kazakhstan's Minister of Energy has indicated that the plant would begin producing energy in 2025. [18] He has also suggested that the matter of whether a second plant will be built in the Lake Balkhash region in collaboration with Toshiba will be resolved in 2019, once the Eurasian Economic Union has created a single energy market for the region. [19]

In June 2015, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors approved the establishment of a low-enriched uranium reserve in Kazakhstan, to be located at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant. The reserve will be managed by the IAEA and is expected to open in approximately August 2017. [20]

Kazakhstan is a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), START-I, signed the Additional Protocol with the IAEA in February 2004, and is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. [21] Kazakhstan acceded to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (NTC) on 16 September 2005, is party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), ratified its 2005 Amendment in April 2011, and is an active partner in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. [22] On 8 September 2006, the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian States—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—signed the Treaty of Semipalatinsk, which established a Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (CANWFZ), and entered into force on 21 March 2009. [23]

[1] Pavel Podvig (ed.), Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004), pp. 150-167.
[2] Pavel Podvig (ed.), Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004), pp. 150-167.
[3] David Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Doubleday, 2009), pp. 439-458.
[4] "Kazakhstan," First Watch International, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,www.sipri.org.
[5] "NNSA Secures 775 Nuclear Weapons worth of Weapons-Grade Nuclear Material from BN-350 Fast Reactor in Kazakhstan," Press Release from the National Nuclear Security Administration, 18 November 2010, http://nnsa.energy.gov.
[6] Luke Schlichter, "Reported Accomplishments of Selected Threat Reduction and Nonproliferation Programs," PGS Policy Update: Partnership for Global Security, December 2006.
[7] "Seventh Annual Report," Global Threat Reduction Program, United Kingdom, Department of Energy and Climate, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2009.
[8] National Nuclear Security Administration, "U.S., Kazakhstan Cooperate to Eliminate Highly Enriched Uranium," Press Release, U.S. Department of Energy, 7 January 2015, nnsa.energy.gov.
[9] "Kazakhstan removes spent fuel of VVR-K reactor, commits to eliminate HEU," International Panel on Fissile Materials: IPFM Blog, 8 January 2015, fissilematerials.org.
[10] "World Uranium Mining Production," World Nuclear Association, February 2015, www.world-nuclear.org.
[11] Kassenova, Togzhan, “Kazakhstan's Nuclear Ambitions,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 28 April 2008, www.thebulletin.org.
[12] Raushan Nurshayeva, "Kazakhstan, China sign gas, nuclear, energy deals," Reuters, 12 June 2009, www.reuters.com; "Canada and Kazakhstan agree on nuclear cooperation," World Nuclear News, 15 September 2009, www.world-nuclear-news.org; "India, Kazakhstan sign new nuclear pact," Express India, 24 January 2009, xpressindia.com; "Kazakhstan and UAE in nuclear energy cooperation," Gulf News, 2 September 2010, www.gulfnews.com.
[13] Sergey Ruchkin, International Uranium Enrichment Centre (IUEC) in Angarsk (Russia) and the International Assurances of Supply, PIR Center for Policy Studies in Russia, 17 April 2007, www.pircenter.org; Kazatomprom: National Atomic Company, 21 January 2014, www.kazatomprom.k.
[14] "Kazakhstan, Korea seek closer cooperation," World Nuclear News, 23 April 2010, www.world-nuclear-news.org; Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington, D.C., Republic of Kazakhstan: Country Profile 2012 (Washington, D.C.: 2012), 47-48.
[15] Dr. Manmohan Singh, "Joint Statement: Consolidating the Strategic Partnership between the Republic of India and the Republic of Kazakhstan," Press Release, Office of the Prime Minister of India, 16 April 2011, www.pmindia.nic.in; "India-Kazakhstan nuclear cooperation agreement signed," World Nuclear News, 18 April 2011, www.world-nuclear-news.org; "Uranium and Nuclear Power in Kazakhstan," World Nuclear Association, June 2015, www.world-nuclear.org.
[16] Julia Rutz, "Russian, Japanese Companies Expected to Participate in Construction of Two Nuclear Power Plants in Kazakhstan," The Astana Times, 6 February 2015, www.astanatimes.com.
[17] "Only the Construction of Nuclear Power Plants in Kazakhstan Will Save Kazatomprom – Experts," 8 April 2015, 365info.kz.
[18] "Agreement on the Construction of Nuclear Power Plant in Kazakhstan Will Be Signed in the First Half of the Year – Rosatom," 7 April 2015, news.kaz.ru.
[19] Julia Rutz, "Russian, Japanese Companies Expected to Participate in Construction of Two Nuclear Power Plants in Kazakhstan," The Astana Times, 6 February 2015, www.astanatimes.com.
[20] "IAEA approves the LEU bank in Kazakhstan," International Panel on Fissile Materials: IPFM Blog, 11 June 2015, fissilematerials.org.
[21] "Kazakhstan and Nonproliferation," The Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 18 June 2009, www.kazembassy.org.uk; "U.S.-Kazakh Nonproliferation Cooperation," The United States Department of State, 16 October 2012, www.state.gov.
[22] "Kazakhstan Against Terrorism," The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, 12 October 2006, www.kazakhstanun.org; "Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material," International Atomic Energy Agency, www.iaea.org.
[23] "Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Semipalatinsk)," Federation of American Scientists, 2013, www.fas.org; "Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone in Central Asia: IAEA Welcomes Entry into Force of Treaty Joining Five States in Region," International Atomic Energy Agency, 24 March 2009, www.iaea.org.

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.