Today is the international day against nuclear tests. This is of particular poignance as I sit in Kazakhstan- a place that was used by the former Soviet Union as a nuclear proving ground. This has had tragic and intergenerational effect on the people, especially those living in Semey, near the Semi-Palatinsk test site.
By Susi Snyder*
When I first became involved in the movement against nuclear weapons, it was because I was inspired to act against what I understood to be gross human rights violations. I’d met people who were forcibly relocated so that nuclear testing could take place. Those who had lost their homes and livelihoods in order to prove the power of the bomb. Those people- the Newe, or Western Shoshone, had a treaty agreement to lands that they were pushed off of at gunpoint. To this day, these people continue to feel the impact of the hundreds of nuclear weapons detonated on their lands. These people worked against nuclear weapons with dignity and respect and in the hope that no other people around the world would suffer in the way that they had done.
Since those early days working alongside Western Shoshone anti-nuclear activists and human rights defenders there has been a connection to the people around other test sites. Although often located in fairly remote areas these test sites continue to have an impact on people. The very nature of the weapon- one that causes indiscriminate effects for generations to come- means that even those living near by, but not next to, these remote test sites have suffered from the bomb The long-term impact of nuclear weapons testing is an issue that must continue to be studied. The difference in impact on men and women, the impact on economies, and of course the psychological and social impacts, are something that cannot be dismissed.
I remember one of the women working in our coalition near the US test site, a woman who had grown up hearing the bombs go off in the early mornings. Even 30 years later, she suffered from shockingly bright and terrible night terrors. She was unable to hold a job, and was eventually diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. Yet she had not lived through a conflict per se, only near the land that was blown up time and time again. That’s just one story, no one really knows, nor ever will know, the long-term impacts on the mental health of those around test sites. It is part of the unheard and unspoken legacy of nuclear weapons testing.
Today, on the International Day Against Nuclear Testing, is a good day to think about the unthinkable. The intentional bombing of their own populations by nuclear weapons possessors. Today is a day to remember that the impacts of those bombings is still not fully understood, and may never be. Today is a day to reaffirm that these weapons are inhumane, unacceptable, and must be outlawed and eliminated.
* Susi Snyder is programme leader Nuclear Disarmament at PAX.