Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 2nd, 2020 - by Daryl G. Kimball / Arms Control Today

Nuclear Testing, Never Again

Daryl G. Kimball / Arms Control Today

 (July/August 2020) — Seventy-five years ago, on July 16, the United States detonated the world’s first nuclear weapons test explosion in the New Mexican desert. Just three weeks later, US Air Force B-29 bombers executed surprise atomic bomb attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing at least 214,000 people by the end of 1945, and injuring untold thousands more who died in the years afterward.

Since then, the world has suffered from a costly and deadly nuclear arms race fueled by more than 2,056 nuclear test explosions by at least eight states, more than half of which (1,030) were conducted by the United States.

But now, as a result of years of sustained citizen pressure and campaigning, congressional leadership, and scientific and diplomatic breakthroughs, nuclear testing is taboo.

The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, when a bipartisan congressional majority mandated a nine-month testing moratorium. In 1996 the United States was the first to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which verifiably prohibits all nuclear test explosions of any yield. Today, the CTBT has 184 signatories and almost universal support. But it has not formally entered into force due to the failure of the United States, China, and six other holdout states to ratify the pact.

As a result, the door to nuclear testing remains ajar, and now some White House officials and members of the Senate’s Dr. Strangelove Caucus are threatening to blow it wide open.

According to a May 22 article in The Washington Post, senior national security officials discussed the option of a demonstration nuclear blast at a May 15 interagency meeting. A senior official told the Post that a “rapid test” by the United States could prove useful from a negotiating standpoint as the Trump administration tries to pressure Russia and China to engage in talks on a new arms control agreement.

Making matters worse, in a party-line vote last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved an amendment by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to authorize $10 million specifically for a nuclear test if so ordered by President Donald Trump. Such a test could be conducted underground in just a few months at the former Nevada Test Site outside Las Vegas.

The idea of such a demonstration nuclear test blast is beyond reckless. In reality, the first US nuclear test explosion in 28 years would do nothing to rein in Russian and Chinese nuclear arsenals or improve the environment for negotiations. Rather, it would raise tensions and probably trigger an outbreak of nuclear testing by other nuclear actors, leading to an all-out global arms race in which everyone would come out a loser.

Other nuclear-armed countries, such as Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea would have far more to gain from nuclear testing than would the United States. Over the course of the past 25 years, the US nuclear weapons labs have spent billions to maintain the US arsenal without nuclear explosive testing. Other nuclear powers would undoubtedly seize the opportunity provided by a US nuclear blast to engage in multiple explosive tests of their own, which could help them perfect new and more dangerous types of warheads.

Moves by the United States to prepare for or to resume nuclear testing would shred its already tattered reputation as a leader on nonproliferation and make a mockery of the State Department’s initiative for a multilateral dialogue to create a better environment for progress on nuclear disarmament. The United States would join North Korea, which is the only country to have conducted nuclear tests in this century, as a nuclear rogue state.

As Dr. Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, said on May 28, “[A]ctions or activities by any country that violate the international norm against nuclear testing, as underpinned by the CTBT, would constitute a grave challenge to the nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament regime, as well as to global peace and security more broadly.”

Talk of renewing US nuclear testing would dishonor the victims of the nuclear age. These include the millions of people who have died and suffered from illnesses directly related to the radioactive fallout from tests conducted in the United States, the islands of the Pacific, Australia, China, North Africa, Russia, and Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union conducted 468 of its 715 nuclear tests. Tragically, the downwinders affected by the first US nuclear test, code-named “Trinity,” are still not even included in the US Radiation Effects Compensation Act program, which is due to expire in 2022.

Congress must step in and slam the door shut on the idea of resuming nuclear testing, especially if its purpose is to threaten other countries. As Congress finalizes the annual defense authorization and energy appropriations bills, it can and must enact a prohibition on the use of funds for nuclear testing and enact safeguards that require affirmative House and Senate votes on any proposal for testing in the future.

Eventually, the Senate can and must also reconsider and ratify the CTBT itself. As a signatory, the United States is legally bound to comply with CTBT’s prohibition on testing, but has denied itself the benefits that will come with ratification and entry into force of the treaty.

Nuclear weapons test explosions are a dangerous vestige of a bygone era. We must not go back.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Marking a Somber Anniversary

Daryl G. Kimball / Arms Control Today

(July/August 2020: Vol. 50) — As we mark the solemn 75th anniversaries of the beginning of the nuclear age, the Arms Control Association is offering complimentary access to the full online content in our special July/August 2020 issue of Arms Control Today (ACT).

In addition to ACT’s news reporting on the latest developments, this issue includes some special features that may be of interest to you and your networks in the coming weeks:
•  a prescription for survival by former editorial writer for The New York Times, Carol Giacomo, on “Getting Back on Track to Zero Nuclear Weapons”
•  a personal remembrance from Setsuko Thurlow on her experience in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945
•  “Reflections on Injustice Racism and the Bomb” by Vincent Intondi, author of African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement 

•  an interview with Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui on “Freeing the World of Nuclear Weapons”
•  an essay and photo collection on the catastrophic “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings and the Nuclear Danger Today”
•  a stunning visual description of modern-day nuclear strike scenarios: “Plan A: How a Nuclear War Could Progress” by the team at the Princeton Program on Science and Global Security.

We have also published a short “silent-film” style video essay describing “The 1945 Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” that is available online on our YouTube channel.

We encourage you to share this content with your friends, networks, on social media, in your membership newsletters, Hiroshima/Nagasaki Day commemoration events, in the classroom, or on the speaking circuit.

This issue of Arms Control Today represents but a small contribution to our work together marking this moment in history and forging a path towards a safer world free from the threat of nuclear weapons.

If you find this material useful in this regard, please consider becoming an ACA member and subscribing to Arms Control Today. Our work depends on the support of individuals and donors like you.

Daryl G. Kimball is the Executive Director of the Arms Control Association

Arms Control Today: Table of Contents 

Editorial: Nuclear Testing, Never Again

Daryl G. Kimball


Getting Back on Track to Zero Nuclear Weapons
By Carol Giacomo

Reflections on Injustice, Racism, and the Bomb
By Vincent Intondi 

Freeing the World of Nuclear Weapons: Arms Control Today interviews Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui 

Setsuko Thurlow Remembers The Hiroshima Bombing
By Setsuko Thurlow

Plan A: How a Nuclear War Could Progress
The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings and the Nuclear Danger Today

In the News
Russia Releases Nuclear Deterrence Policy
IAEA Board Presses Iran Iran Continues to Stockpile Uranium 

News Briefs 
China Deploys New Missile Submarines
Japan Suspends Aegis Ashore Deployment
Upgraded Nuclear Weapon Passes F-15 Test
No Progress Toward Extending New START
US Testing Interest Triggers Backlash
Critics Question US Open Skies Complaints
US, Russia Boost Shows of Force
US Aims to Expand Drone Sales
US Sets Global Partnership Priorities
North Korea Pledges to Boost Deterrent
Tensions on Korean Peninsula Rise

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.