Skip to Main Content

This Led to That

International Day Against Nuclear Tests

by Kira Appel (Libraries) on 2023-09-15T09:29:00-04:00 in Health Sciences and Medicine, History, International Affairs, Political Science | 0 Comments

Nuclear bomb explosion

Licorne test, 1971, French Polynesia. PHOTO: The Official CTBTO Photostream



A quick internet search for the holiday’s origins led me to the United Nations web page that provides background for the establishment of the day. It was declared on December 2, 2009 when the United Nations General Assembly passed a unanimous resolution that had been initiated by Kazakhstan. 

“Why Kazakhstan?” I thought, passingly. (I’ll come back to that.) 

First, though, some facts gleaned from the UN page:

  • Since the very first test on July 16, 1945, there have been, worldwide, over 2,000 nuclear tests.

  • The declaration of the day also led, through a snowball of activism, to the General Assembly declaring September 26th as The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, observed for the first time in 2014. 

There is a formal, yet not in force, mechanism for the eradication of all testing. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1996. Thus far, 185 countries have signed on, with 170 having ratified. Through a link to the web page for the treaty, I learned that the U.S. signed but never ratified (according to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, ratified treaties become “the supreme law of the land.”) 

I found, using our ProQuest Historical Newspapers database, a New York Times article reporting on Bill Clinton’s signing of the treaty in September of 1996 (you’ll need your NS log-in credentials if you’d like to see any of the sources I mention).

I then poked around other New School Libraries’ resources to see what I could find regarding, more broadly, the history of nuclear weapons testing. 

To explore multiple databases with one search I typed into the homepage box: history nuclear weapons testing

That immediately yielded an interesting-looking book we own in our ProQuest database for books, Ebook CentralDisarming Doomsday: the human impact of nuclear weapons testing since Hiroshima 

I looked at the record in another source and saw that one of its Library of Congress Subject Headings was nuclear weapons —- testing

Using our Advanced Search feature, I searched using that heading and found a film called The Polygon. We have access to it through another database called Academic Video Online (AVON), from Alexander Street Press. I clicked to read the film’s description (in full below), and discovered immediately, through an assumption, why it was that Kazakhstan initiated the resolution for today’s holiday! 

(My brief research journey, by the way, imitates exactly the kind of help we provide for anyone in our community who reaches out to us! We’re available on chat, through an email, a phone call, a visit to one of our service desks, or through scheduling a one-on-one research session, either in-person or on Zoom.) 

“The Polygon reveals the untold legacy of the Soviet Union's extensive Cold War nuclear testing program at the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan. Over 600 nuclear bombs were detonated at the formerly secret site, known as The Polygon, from 1949 to 1991, including 116 above ground explosions. The massive mushroom clouds were witnessed by hundreds of thousands of nearby unprotected Kazakh villagers, unaware that nuclear fallout was raining down on them, their land and water. More than 18,000 square kilometers remain heavily contaminated. Theradiation silently devastated three generations who have suffered serious health problems, including thyroid disease, cancer, birth defects, and more. Life expectancy in the region is seven years less than the national average in Kazakhstan. The full impact of radiation exposure was hidden by Soviet authorities, and only came to light after the test site was closed in 1991 after major protests. The tragic story is told in part by the villagers themselves, including Bolat Baltabek, a teacher and town leader, who lost his sister, brother, son, and countless neighbors to radiation-related diseases. Shot over 3 years, The Polygon revisits the history of these tragic Cold War experiments, and profiles the unfortunate victims that remain today, still suffering with little or no compensation, or global recognition of their plight.”


MLA Citation: Abruzzo, Paul. "International Day Against Nuclear Tests." This Led to That, The New School Libraries, 29 Aug. 2023,

 Add a Comment



Enter your e-mail address to receive notifications of new posts by e-mail.


  Follow Us

  Return to Blog
This post is closed for further discussion.