Fact Sheet

Kazakhstan Nuclear Overview

Kazakhstan Nuclear Overview

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This page is part of the Kazakhstan Country Profile.

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 renounced nuclear weapons, and transferred all of its nuclear warheads to Russia by April 1995. Kazakhstan completed dismantlement of the nuclear testing infrastructure at Semipalatinsk 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 Metallurgical Plant. 3 Project Sapphire also remove 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 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 In March 2016 the United States and Kazakhstan announced that all HEU from the VVR-K reactor at the Institute for Nuclear Physics, located in the Alatau region, had been down-blended. 7 This project is a component of the U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative program. 8

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest producer of natural uranium, accounting for 39% of world supply extracted from mines in 2016. 9 Although a Russian BN-350 fast reactor operated in Aktau, Kazakhstan from 1973 to 1999, Kazakhstan does not currently generate nuclear power. Kazakhstan has previously expressed interest in building nuclear power plants on its territory and explored the potential for various international partnerships in this endeavor. However, the Kazakhstan Minister of Energy put on hold preparations to build a nuclear power plant in 2015, citing Kazakhstan’s energy surplus. Despite this, the IAEA completed a review of Kazakhstan’s infrastructure for a nuclear power program at the government’s request in November 2016. 10 According to the IAEA report, Kazakhstan is well-positioned to continue developing its civilian nuclear program. 11

Kazakhstan cooperates with Russia and China on several nuclear projects. 12 Russia and Kazakhstan have cooperated on uranium exploration, mining, and enrichment activities. Notably, they jointly established the International Uranium Center in Angarsk in 2007 where Kazatomprom, Kazakhstan’s state-owned nuclear energy company, now holds a 10 percent share. 13 Kazatomprom and China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGNPC) agreed to a joint venture project to create Kazakhstan’s first nuclear fuel fabrication plant in May 2016. Production of ready-to-use fuel assemblies for Chinese power plants is scheduled to start in 2020. 14

In June 2015, the IAEA Board of Governors approved the establishment of a low-enriched uranium reserve in Kazakhstan, to be located at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant. The idea for the international LEU bank originated with the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and NTI advisor Warren Buffett, who offered $50 million to fund the bank, contingent on the IAEA procuring an additional $100 million from other sources. The goal of the project was to create a reserve of low-enriched uranium, which could supply member states with fuel for nuclear power plants in case of market supply disruption. The IAEA Board of Governors approved the project in 2010 and signed a host state agreement with the Government of Kazakhstan in 2015. While Kazakhstan is responsible for security, safety and safeguards, the reserve is owned and managed by the IAEA. 15 The IAEA LEU Bank opened for business on 29 August 2017. 16

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. 17 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. 18 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. 19 Having experienced first-hand the adverse effects of nuclear testing, Kazakhstan supported the humanitarian initiative, drawing attention to the impact of nuclear weapons on health, society, and the environment. Kazakhstan participated in negotiations and voted in favor of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. 20

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Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): A ballistic missile with a range greater than 5,500 km. See entry for ballistic missile.
Strategic nuclear warhead
Strategic nuclear warhead: A high-yield nuclear warhead placed on a long-range delivery system, such as a land-based intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs), a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs), or a strategic bomber.
Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM)
A missile designed to be launched from an aircraft and jet-engine powered throughout its flight. As with all cruise missiles, its range is a function of payload, propulsion, and fuel volume, and can thus vary greatly. Under the START I Treaty, the term "long-range ALCM" means an air-launched cruise missile with a range in excess of 600 kilometers.
Dismantlement: Taking apart a weapon, facility, or other item so that it is no longer functional.
Weapons-grade material
Weapons-grade material: Refers to the nuclear materials that are most suitable for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, e.g., uranium (U) enriched to 90 percent U-235 or plutonium (Pu) that is primarily composed of Pu-239 and contains less than 7% Pu-240. Crude nuclear weapons (i.e., improvised nuclear devices), could be fabricated from lower-grade materials.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium: Uranium with an increased concentration of the isotope U-235, relative to natural uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent U-235, whereas nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to very high levels (see the definitions for “highly enriched uranium” and “weapons-grade”). Nuclear power plant fuel typically uses uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, material that is not sufficiently enriched to be used for nuclear weapons.
Downblending: Refers to the process of blending down HEU to LEU. This is done by mixing HEU and the blendstock (of natural, depleted, or slightly enriched uranium) in either liquid or gas form. See highly enriched uranium and low enriched uranium.
Uranium is a metal with the atomic number 92. See entries for enriched uranium, low enriched uranium, and highly enriched uranium.
Spent nuclear fuel
Spent nuclear fuel: Irradiated nuclear fuel. Once irradiated, nuclear fuel is highly radioactive and extremely physically hot, necessitating special remote handling. Fuel is considered “self protecting” if it is sufficiently radioactive that those who might seek to divert it would not be able to handle it directly without suffering acute radiation exposure.
Research reactor
Research reactor: Small fission reactors designed to produce neutrons for a variety of purposes, including scientific research, training, and medical isotope production. Unlike commercial power reactors, they are not designed to generate power.
Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI)
The GTRI: A program established by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration in May 2004 to identify, secure, remove, and/or facilitate the removal of vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials around the world. The GTRI incorporated, among other programs, longstanding U.S. efforts under the RERTR program to convert domestic and foreign research reactors from highly enriched uranium fuel to low-enriched uranium fuel. See entry for RERTR 
Nuclear energy
Nuclear energy: The energy liberated by a nuclear reaction (fission or fusion), or by radioactive decay.
Nuclear power plant
Nuclear power plant: A facility that generates electricity using a nuclear reactor as its heat source to provide steam to a turbine generator.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
IAEA: Founded in 1957 and based in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is an autonomous international organization in the United Nations system. The Agency’s mandate is the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy, technical assistance in this area, and verification that nuclear materials and technology stay in peaceful use. Article III of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) requires non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT to accept safeguards administered by the IAEA. The IAEA consists of three principal organs: the General Conference (of member states); the Board of Governors; and the Secretariat. For additional information, see the IAEA.
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium: Uranium with an increased concentration of the isotope U-235, relative to natural uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent U-235, whereas nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to very high levels (see the definitions for “highly enriched uranium” and “weapons-grade”). Nuclear power plant fuel typically uses uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, material that is not sufficiently enriched to be used for nuclear weapons.
Low enriched uranium (LEU)
Low enriched uranium (LEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of the isotope U-235 that is higher than that found in natural uranium but lower than 20% LEU (usually 3 to 5%). LEU is used as fuel for many nuclear reactor designs.
Safeguards: A system of accounting, containment, surveillance, and inspections aimed at verifying that states are in compliance with their treaty obligations concerning the supply, manufacture, and use of civil nuclear materials. The term frequently refers to the safeguards systems maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in all nuclear facilities in non-nuclear weapon state parties to the NPT. IAEA safeguards aim to detect the diversion of a significant quantity of nuclear material in a timely manner. However, the term can also refer to, for example, a bilateral agreement between a supplier state and an importer state on the use of a certain nuclear technology.

See entries for Full-scope safeguards, information-driven safeguards, Information Circular 66, and Information Circular 153.
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
The CTBT: Opened for signature in 1996 at the UN General Assembly, the CTBT prohibits all nuclear testing if it enters into force. The treaty establishes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to ensure the implementation of its provisions and verify compliance through a global monitoring system upon entry into force. Pending the treaty’s entry into force, the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO is charged with establishing the International Monitoring System (IMS) and promoting treaty ratifications. CTBT entry into force is contingent on ratification by 44 Annex II states. For additional information, see the CTBT.
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I, II, & III)
Refers to negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation, held between 1982 and 1993 to limit and reduce the numbers of strategic offensive nuclear weapons in each country’s nuclear arsenal. The talks culminated in the 1991 START I Treaty, which entered into force in December 1994, and the 1993 START II Treaty. Although START II was ratified by the two countries, it never entered into force. In 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin discussed the possibility of a START III treaty to make further weapons reductions, but negotiations resulted in a stalemate. Following the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002, Russia declared START II void. START I expired on 5 December 2009, and was followed by the New START treaty. See entries for New START and the Trilateral Statement. For additional information, see the entries for START I, START II, and New START
Additional Protocol
The Additional Protocol is a legal document granting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) complementary inspection authority to that provided in underlying safeguards agreements. The principal aim is to enable the IAEA inspectorate to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities. Under the Protocol, the IAEA is granted expanded rights of access to information and sites, as well as additional authority to use the most advanced technologies during the verification process. See entry for Information Circular 540.
Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)
The NSG was established in 1975, and its members commit themselves to exporting sensitive nuclear technologies only to countries that adhere to strict non-proliferation standards. For additional information, see the NSG.
International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (NTC)
The NTC: The General Assembly adopted the Nuclear Terrorism Convention in April 2005. It opened for signature on 14 September 2005. The Convention addresses the unlawful possession or use of nuclear devices or materials by non-state actors. The Convention calls on states to develop a legal framework criminalizing offenses related to nuclear terrorism, as well as for international cooperation in nuclear terrorism investigations and prosecutions. For additional information, see the Nuclear Terrorism Convention.
Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)
The CPPNM: Obliges parties to ensure that during international transport across their territory, or on ships or aircraft under their jurisdiction, civil nuclear materials are protected according to agreed standards. The convention also provides a framework for international cooperation on the protection, recovery, and return of stolen nuclear material, and on the application of criminal sanctions against persons who commit crimes involving nuclear material. The CPPNM opened for signature on 3 March 1980 and entered into force on 8 February 1987. The Amendment to the CPPNM extended the convention’s scope to also cover the physical protection of nuclear material in domestic use, in storage, and during transport, and of nuclear facilities used for peaceful purposes, and provided for additional cooperation between states. For additional information, see the CPPNM.
Ratification: The implementation of the formal process established by a country to legally bind its government to a treaty, such as approval by a parliament. In the United States, treaty ratification requires approval by the president after he or she has received the advice and consent of two-thirds of the Senate. Following ratification, a country submits the requisite legal instrument to the treaty’s depository governments Procedures to ratify a treaty follow its signature.

See entries for Entry into force and Signature.
Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT)
The GICNT was announced by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 July 2006 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The initiative’s missions is to strengthen global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to nuclear terrorism by conducting multilateral activities that strengthen the plans, policies, procedures, and interoperability of partner nations. For additional information, see the GICNT.
Central Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (CANWFZ)
The Central Asia Nuclear-Weapons-Free-Zone (CANWFZ) includes all five Central Asian states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The foreign ministers of the five countries signed the treaty establishing the zone on 8 September 2006 at the former Soviet nuclear test site in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. The treaty entered into force on 21 March 2009. For additional information, see the CANWFZ.
Entry into force
The moment at which all provisions of a treaty are legally binding on its parties. Every treaty specifies preconditions for its entry into force. For example, the NPT specified that it would enter into force after the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union (the Depository governments) and 40 other countries ratified the treaty, an event that occurred on March 5, 1970. See entries for Signature, Ratification.


  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. "Joint Announcement of the United States and Republic of Kazakhstan Cooperation in the Sphere of Nonproliferation and Nuclear Security," The White House, 31 March 2016, www.whitehouse.gov.
  8. "Seventh Annual Report," Global Threat Reduction Program, United Kingdom, Department of Energy and Climate, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2009.
  9. "World Uranium Mining Production," World Nuclear Association, February 2015, www.world-nuclear.org.
  10. “No need in building nuclear power plant in the next 7 years – K.Bozumbayev,” Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 2 November 2016, www.government.kz.
  11. “IAEA Reviews Kazakhstan’s Nuclear Power Infrastructure Development,” International Atomic Energy Agency, 8 November 2016, www.iaea.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. “International Uranium Enrichment Centre” International Atomic Energy Association, www.iaea.org.
  14. “Agreement on Fuel Project Realization Principles Was Signed” Kazatoprom, 6 May 2016, www.ulba.kz.
  15. Tariq Rauf “From ‘Atoms for Peace’ to an IAEA Nuclear Fuel Bank,” Arms Control Today, October 2015, www.armscontrol.org.
  16. “IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank” International Atomic Energy Association, Fact Sheet, March 2017, www.iaea.org.
  17. "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.
  18. "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.
  19. "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.
  20. “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Adopted,” The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations in New York, 8 July 2017.


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