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Last Updated: April, 2018

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] With assistance from the United States and Russia, most of the weapons-grade nuclear material remaining in Kazakhstan was removed to the United States or Russia or down-blended, Kazakhstan still holds a small amount of HEU at two civilian nuclear institutes with operational research reactors. [2]

Kazakhstan is home to some of the world's most abundant uranium deposits, accounting for 39% of the total world supply extracted from mines in 2016. [3] Russia, China, and Japan all import large quantities of uranium from Kazakhstan. Established in 1997 by the Kazakhstani government, Kazatomprom controls all the country's uranium exploration, mining and other nuclear activities. [4]

Although Kazakhstan previously explored international partnerships to construct a nuclear power plant, the Kazakhstani Minister of Energy shelved preparations to build a plant indefinitely in 2015, citing Kazakhstan’s energy surplus. [5] Kazakhstan has, however, cooperated with Russia and China on several other civilian nuclear projects.

Kazakhstan hosts the IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank, a fuel reserve intended to promote nuclear nonproliferation by diminishing the incentives for countries to develop their own enrichment facilities. The project will create a reserve of low-enriched uranium, which can supply member states with the material to produce fuel for nuclear power plants in the case of market supply disruption. The LEU Bank received major funding and support from world governments, as well as the Nuclear Threat Initiative and benefactor Warren Buffett. The LEU Bank opened on 29 August 2017. [6]

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, Kazakhstani President Nazarbayev signed a law approving the country's Additional Protocol to its nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Kazakhstan participated in negotiations and voted in favor of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. [7]


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 Kazakhstani 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] Luke Schlichter, "Reported Accomplishments of Selected Threat Reduction and Nonproliferation Programs," PGS Policy Update: Partnership for Global Security, December 2006.
[3] "World Uranium Mining Production," World Nuclear Association, May 9, 2017, www.world-nuclear.org.
[4] "Uranium and Nuclear Power in Kazakhstan," World Nuclear Association, 1 March 2013, www.world-nuclear.org.
[5] Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “No need in building nuclear power plant in the next 7 years – K.Bozumbayev,” 2 November 2016, www.government.kz.
[6] International Atomic Energy Association, “IAEA Low Enriched Uranium Bank” Fact Sheet, March 2017, www.iaea.org.
[7] “Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Adopted,” The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations in New York, July 8th 2017, http://kazakhstanun.com.
[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 2019.