The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament today condemned the U.S. government's decision to begin "subcritical" nuclear testing and accused them of jeopardising the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
Today (Wednesday 2nd July) the first in a series of planned subcritical tests, code-named "Rebound", will go ahead at the Nevada test site. *1
The U.S. Department of Energy claim that the tests are being run to assess how age affects the materials in their nuclear stockpile. However the tests will supply data that can be used in computer modelling to improve weapon performance and assess changes to manufacturing techniques. Sub-critical test results can also be used to design new types of nuclear weapons and the Department of Energy have not ruled out using them for this purpose in future.
The test results will also benefit the British government, who under the terms of the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement share nuclear test information with the U.S.
The subcritical tests are just one part of the U.S. "Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programme" which also includes the construction of a superlaser laboratory in California designed to simulate nuclear weapons tests, expansion of facilites supporting production of cores of nuclear weapons and creation of plutonium pits in New Mexico. With an annual budget of $4 billion and totalling $61 billion from 1997 to 2010 the U.S. are spending more annually on stewardship than was spent on building new weapons during the Cold War.*2.
CND Chair, Dave Knight said, "These tests certainly breach the spirit if not the letter of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), signed by President Clinton only last September.
"Taken together with their $61 billion investment in their nuclear weapons programme these tests show that the U.S. is not committed to the CTBT and that it intends to maintain and develop its nuclear weapons capability.
"The CTBT has yet to enter legally into force and faces major problems. Neither India or Pakistan have yet signed. They want the nuclear capable countries to commit to a timetable for disarmament before they themselves commit to not testing or developing their own weapons.
" This resumption of the development of nuclear technology by the U.S. sends all the wrong messages and could scupper the chances of the CTBT ever entering into force and any future disarmament measures.
"CND calls on the U.S. government to cancel the tests programme, close down the Nevada test site and start negotiations for the global elimination of nuclear weapons".
*1 What are sub-critical tests?
Subcritical tests involve conventional high explosives being used to blast plutonium pellets. The tests are designed not to produce a self sustaining chain-reaction and so are technically permissable under the CTBT. The Data gathered will be used to create computer models designed to predict the behaviour of the plutonium during full scale explosions.