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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Range Takes Off Its Army Greatcoat. What Next?

Moscow RABOCHAYA TRIBUNA 16 Dec 94 p 4

Interview with Viktor Kiyanskiy, professor at the West Kazakhstan Agriculture Institute and chairman of the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly Environment Commission, by correspondent Yuriy Kirinitsiyanov in Almaty

Alma-ata Almaty: -- The Semipalatinsk test range.... So much has been said and written about it. It is much less widely known that tests of nuclear bombs and delivery systems were also carried out in West Kazakhstan, and that the consequences of these explosions have not been fully studied. Nor has the main question been decided: What are we to do with the former test ranges in future? This is the subject of the dialogue between RABOCHAYA TRIBUNA correspondent Yuriy Kirinitsiyanov and Viktor Kiyanskiy, professor at the West Kazakhstan Agriculture Institute, deputy of the republic's Supreme Council, and chairman of the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly Environment Commission. [passage omitted]

Kiyanskiy: A zone was mapped out between Guryev and Uralsk Oblasts -- it stretched all the way from Russia, in the direction of Aktyubinsk. Here tests of aircraft and missile technology were conducted, and several nuclear explosions were also carried out in this region. And the research was of a rather different nature than that in, say, Semipalatinsk. Here they were studying the means of delivery of nuclear weapons -- aircraft and missiles. Launches took place from "Kapustin Yar" -- this test range is now fairly widely known. The airmen were based in the city of Aktyubinsk, and they flew along special corridors toward Balkhash. [passage omitted]

Kirinitsiyanov: A lot of rumors have sprung up around the test range -- as always happens when there is an information vacuum.

Kiyanskiy: And that is why we scientists decided to take on the difficult mission of separating truth from conjecture. The vast majority of the explosions were carried out in the atmosphere, and it was hard to imagine that a large area was contaminated with radioactive waste [sentence as published]. I myself took part in two expeditions. We traveled around virtually the entire territory of the range in cars. The expedition had dosimetric apparatus and mobile chemical laboratories.

Kirinitsiyanov: And you had no problems getting permission for the research?

Kiyanskiy: No, much has changed nowadays. We met with the military, and they talked quite freely with us and let us go practically anywhere we wanted to make analyses. We went to the former bomb shelters and inside the fissures that formed after the explosions.

Kirinitsiyanov: Can we clarify, were these Russia's or Kazakhstan's [military] units?

Kiyanskiy: I asked this question specifically -- the troops are under joint command. The officers and men have taken the oath to both Yeltsin and Nazarbayev.

Kirinitsiyanov: You said there were two expeditions....

Kiyanskiy: Yes, the second time an aerial survey was carried out by helicopter. No dramatic levels of radioactive fallout were recorded, so our assumptions were basically confirmed.

Kirinitsiyanov: But that was in the air. What about the people?

Kiyanskiy: Our gamma device was able to determine the accumulation of radionuclides in a human organism over the person's entire life. It is a new device, we acquired it only recently. It is equipped with a computer, so that mistakes in calculations are ruled out. More than 400 people were studied. In no case did we find a dangerous level of radionuclides, or even a dangerous background excess [opasnogo fona prevysheniya ikh].

Kirinitsiyanov: So there are no grounds for concern?

Kiyanskiy: Yes, there are, and very substantial grounds. We found serious chemical pollution -- of both water and soil. In West Kazakhstan Oblast there are the salt marshes of Khaki-sor. They stretch for more than 60 km. It is like the dying Aral Sea. And it was here that we found a significant excess of heavy metals -- they are not encountered in natural salt systems -- cadmium, lead. The remnants of missiles and aircraft were clearly visible from the helicopter. They are breaking up and dissolving in the water. And they accumulate over the years, that is the dangerous thing. The saiga [kind of antelope] traditionally graze around Khaki-sor. Naturally, they fall ill. The saiga herd is degenerating. People live there too. Of course, they don't drink water from the lake. But the probability is that the underground water in the area will also become polluted. This is a lengthy process, and is poorly monitored.

Kirinitsiyanov: But how are things going, in what was formerly a single test range but is now divided by a state border?

Kiyanskiy: The volume of scientific research has been reduced drastically. That is to some extent understandable. Conversion is in progress. Moreover Russia can no longer afford to maintain this test range. And it is seeking ways to reduce its expenditure. I was told the following figure, for instance: Appropriations for research into military aviation technology have been reduced approximately fivefold compared with 1989. To a considerable extent, also, it is because there is pressure from the "greens." The public's impatience not infrequently borders on the ridiculous: Drive everyone out immediately, blow up the equipment. I believe a more considered approach is needed. After all, this complex possesses unique apparatus, making it possible to conduct a very broad spectrum of observations simultaneously, and not only in a military context. The whole world is doing this, improving its aircraft, missiles, antisatellite systems. But we are going our own way in this too.

Kirinitsiyanov: It is rather odd to hear an ecologist professor speak in defense of the military-industrial complex.

Kiyanskiy: No, I'm not defending the military-industrial complex, just common sense! It is very easy to act as in Semipalatinsk: close it first, then speculate about what can be done. I believe our attitude to test ranges must change. Incidentally, this could be a very substantial item in the state's income -- to take a long-term view. Of course we do not need the monster test range in the form in which it existed before. An inventory should be compiled of everything that is there. After all, the test range in West Kazakhstan had dual-purpose technology: an observation station, navigation equipment. At the Suyunduk test range (which forms part of the integrated system controlled from "Kapustin Yar") I saw five autonomous camps [gorodkov] for different kinds of work. They possess fairly powerful electricity stations, housing, storehouses -- you will not see the like in the whole of Urdinskiy Rayon.

Kirinitsiyanov: I can imagine the state they are in now....

Kiyanskiy: No, where the military are still present the state of the camps is just as it should be (that is four out of the five), but of course, where the military have left, things are not in good shape. But what can you expect, it is the heart that pumps the blood around.... The frames have been ripped out of the housing, all the equipment that was not removed has been stripped down. The optical mirrors have been smashed. Yet these were unique instruments making it possible to see the expression on a pilot's face at an altitude of 10,000 meters. Surely some "civilian" use could have been found for these instruments. [passage omitted] Again I repeat: We cannot get by without a large-scale inventory of the military ranges. If they are not suitable for military purposes, and if they are not contaminated, then we should be bold and hand them over to agriculture. And I think some quite good private farms could be made there. In Suyunduk again, I was told, even in the old days the military allowed local inhabitants to graze their flocks there -- when there were no tests. There are no "chemicals" here, they fired ordinary metal dummies. What harm could come from them?... Maybe the greater part of the land could be given over to reserves. To see how the "dirt" left by the military resolves itself with time. Incidentally, the former military zones include sectors of virgin steppe the like of which you cannot find in Kazakhstan now, search as you may. Parliament recently discussed the treaty on military cooperation between Kazakhstan and Russia. Our parliament ratified it virtually unanimously. I put this question to the deputy defense minister who presented the draft treaty: How is it proposed to carry out the burial of radioactive and chemical waste at the military test ranges? It seems that a special agreement is to stipulate a mechanism for resolving these questions so as to rule out contamination of the environment. But the agreement itself still has to be drawn up by experts. I also wanted to know how recultivation work will be carried out. I specified: "...only in the event that accidents occur after the signing of the agreement?" "No," the general replied, "all past instances of pollution will also come under the treaty."

Kirinitsiyanov: Please tell me about the work of the Interparliamentary Assembly Environment Commission, which you chair....

Kiyanskiy: Our commission, in conjunction with the Interstate Ecological Council of the CIS states, put forward the initiative to hold an international conference on the ecological problems of the Commonwealth states in 1995. The need for this is obvious. Especially in terms of legislation, a mechanism for compensation for ecological damage due to trans-border shipments of harmful substances and the use of military test ranges (like in West Kazakhstan). We believe that discussions among scientists and parliamentarians from various countries will help to identify the priority areas of activity and enable us to sign agreements in the sphere of environmental conservation -- for ratification by the Commonwealth countries' parliaments. The [Interparliamentary] Assembly Council approved our proposal and adopted a decision to hold the conference in St. Petersburg in March 1995 under the Interparliamentary Assembly's auspices.

In addition, a model law "On Safety in the Use of Chemicals in Production" was included on the Assembly's agenda on our commission's initiative. The point is that several hundred thousand different chemicals and combinations of them are now produced in the world and used in virtually all spheres of human activity. Yet many of them represent a serious danger to children's health and the environment. At the same time the procedure for handling these substances in the Commonwealth countries is laid down only at the level of statutory instruments and normative and technical documentation, which leads to serious consequences in various sectors of industry and agriculture.

In many foreign states special laws have been adopted and are in force in this sphere. In June 1990 the International Labor Organization adopted a safety blueprint for the use of chemicals in production. However, this convention has unfortunately not yet been ratified by any of the Commonwealth states. The law we have drawn up will plug this gap.

The Kazakhstan delegation included in the Interparliamentary Assembly's work plan for next year questions of the ecology of military test ranges, inland water sources, and trans-border shipments of harmful substances.



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