On 1 March 1954, the United States carried out its largest ever nuclear test. Named ‘Castle Bravo’, the test was part of a series of similar events, ‘Operation Bravo’, designed to assess the feasibility of high-yield and therefore high-energy devices. ‘Castle Bravo’ was expected to produce a yield of six megatons (375 times larger than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima) but the scientists involved miscalculated. The actual yield was fifteen megatons, 2.5 times higher than predicted and more than 900 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. Becky Alexis-Martin, author of Disarming Doomsday, describes the test as “the most significant radiological incident in US history.” How so?
The test resulted in a massive nuclear radiation fallout that contaminated the inhabitants of the various atolls close to Bikini Atoll, where the test took place. Coral reefs were vapourised. Radioactive gas spread across the planet. It took three days for nearby residents to be evacuated from the area. The legacies of harm from this test, and others like it, endure.
The tests that Trump is proposing are likely to involve ‘low-yield’ or what the US military likes to call ‘useable’ nuclear weapons. Regardless of the size, any nuclear testing is not only criminally wasteful in terms of the resources involved. Nuclear testing also has an enormously destructive long-term environmental and human impact. For these reasons alone, any moves towards future testing must be vigorously opposed.
The US last conducted an explosive nuclear test in September 1992. Four years later it signed up to, but did not ratify, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Since then, the US has not conducted any nuclear testing. If the US has not tested since 1992, why start again now?
The only technical reason for conducting explosive nuclear tests is to assess new warhead designs. Data from previous tests and sophisticated computer modelling made ‘live’ testing redundant. It would therefore be reasonable to assume that the US intends to fully develop and deploy a new class of warheads.
Of course, Trump does not need a ‘technical’ excuse to violate global arms control agreements. He requires no excuse to ditch yet another multilateral treaty. Such facets of the ‘old’ global order do not seem to concern him very much as he is engaged in desperate and desperately dangerous efforts to assert US power on the global stage. Any new tests would further destabilise the situation and feed into the already existing, technologically supercharged arms-race. It is possible that any US test would be followed by similar such tests from major nuclear powers.
Opposition to testing should unitepeace and anti-war activists, environmentalists, rights campaigners and other. The time to voice our united opposition is now.
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