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Last Updated: April, 2018

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]

[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.

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.