This Sunday, our Forum family joins the global community to commemorate the International Day against Nuclear Tests. A day devoted to honouring all victims and survivors of nuclear tests, to raising public awareness about the fatal consequences of nuclear explosions, and to remembering why nuclear testing must come to a permanent end.
This day was declared by the UN General Assembly in 2009, following a resolution initiated by Kazakhstan to mark the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991. This was an unprecedented act to demonstrate to the world that it does not need powerful nuclear tests and weapons, and led the way for the closure of other testing sites, including in Mururoa and Kiribati.
Although the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site closed 30 years ago, the region’s residents are still affected by more than 450 nuclear tests that were conducted there by the Soviet Union.
This is a story all too familiar for our Blue Pacific Continent, which was the theatre for some of the most powerful nuclear tests ever conducted in world history; and what we consider atrocities perpetrated on our people without our consent.
We endured five decades, from 1946 to 1996, of more than 300 nuclear tests at atmospheric, surface and underground levels. These were conducted on Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands, in the Montebello Islands in Australia, near Malden Island and Kiritimati Island in Kiribati, on Johnston Atoll, and on Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls in French Polynesia.
The impacts have been nothing short of devastating; from the local, regional and global fallout, to the residual contamination and radioactivity in our ocean and lagoons. From the permanent relocation of resident populations in the Marshall Islands, to the serious and lasting impacts on the health, environment and human rights of our affected communities.
The darkest of these days was the 1st of March 1954, when the Pacific witnessed the largest ever nuclear test explosion, the Castle-Bravo test, in the Marshall Islands. In the hours after the test, life-threatening radiation doses were received by people in nearby atolls.
The nuclear testing legacy has left a gaping wound in our otherwise peaceful and bountiful Blue Pacific. A just resolution of outstanding issues remains evasive to this date, and we call on those responsible to take meaningful steps to address these lingering issues. There is no question that the unresolved nuclear testing legacy issues in the Pacific continue to pose a clear and present danger to the livelihoods of the peoples of the Blue Pacific.
As Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, we have been steadfast in calling for action on longstanding nuclear testing legacy issues in our Blue Pacific and advocating for effective remedial action to mitigate against the threat to the health, security and prospects of our Blue Pacific, as a consequence of the nuclear testing programs.
Currently, we are engaging with the Government of Japan and international partners to ensure the prevention of any further harm to our region from Japan’s plans to discharge ALPS treated water into the Pacific Ocean as part of efforts to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
As we commemorate this important day, and indeed our 50th Forum Anniversary this year, it would be remiss of us not to pay tribute to the foresight of our fore bearers in this regard, for their strong vision of a Blue Pacific, free of nuclear weapons – a vision emphatically embedded in the language of our South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty – more commonly known as the Treaty of Rarotonga. The Treaty successfully led to the permanent cessation of nuclear testing in our region in 1996. Though a product of its time, the Treaty of Rarotonga is one of our very first and most significant achievements as a Forum family; a legally binding instrument with a regional and global reach that continues to serve and inspire our region, and protect our people and our prospects to this day, and no doubt, into the future.
The Treaty is a powerful testament to what we can achieve through regionalism, under the framework of international law, and in support of the rules-based international order to which we all subscribe. It is a product of strong regional consensus and a collective determination to expunge the nuclear threat from our Blue Pacific region.
Just seven months ago, the States Parties to the Treaty of Rarotonga met for the first time. Their Ministerial Statement reinforced the principles underpinning our Nuclear Free Zone, including the freedom to live in peace and independence, and the enjoyment of peaceful social and economic development free from the threat of environmental pollution.
As we look towards 2050 and our shared future as a united Blue Pacific, the threat of nuclear proliferation remains a reality. We only know too well the damage it has done to our environment, health, and wellbeing. As a Forum family, we must never be complacent; we must always call for peaceful and just action.
In this regard, I reiterate the call by Forum Leaders in 2019 for remaining states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
I am also heartened by the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 22 January 2021. I call on every peace-loving member of the global community of nations yet to sign the Treaty to consider doing so, thus contributing meaningfully to ending the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and bolstering world peace.
As a united Forum family, we honour the victims and survivors of nuclear tests, and we celebrate our proud Blue Pacific success and activism against nuclear tests and nuclear threats.
As we envision the safe and peaceful world we want to leave for our children, a nuclear-free Blue Pacific must remain our legacy, and the total elimination of nuclear weapons must be the highest disarmament priority in the world.