U.S. conducts subcritical nuclear test

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

It was learned on October 12 that a subcritical nuclear test was conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy's test site in Nevada on September 15. This is the 24th such test conducted by the United States, the first since August 2006, and the first conducted under the Obama administration. Though the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) does not ban nuclear tests which produce no detonation, the test at this time can be seen as a manifestation of U.S. policy oriented toward retaining a strong nuclear arsenal for a long time to come. The nation will not be able to avoid the criticism that the test runs counter to "a world without nuclear weapons."

According to records of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) under the Department of Energy, the test dubbed "Bacchus" was conducted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico at 5:35 p.m. on September 15. It was reported that the test examined how plutonium reacts to shock waves released with the aid of high explosives.

Jim Haber of the Nevada Desert Experience, a local antinuclear organization, said that usually the NNSA announces a test 48 hours before it is conducted, but such an announcement was not made this time. With regard to the subcritical nuclear test conducted in August 2006, the Department of Energy made an announcement prior to the test.

In November 2009, in an interview with the Chugoku Shimbun, the person in charge of overseeing the test site said that the United States plans to conduct three subcritical nuclear tests by September 2010. The latest information from the NNSA now states that the remaining two tests will be conducted in the first and second quarters, respectively, of fiscal year 2011 (October 2010 to September 2011).

The test site in Nevada is located nearly 100 kilometers northwest of Las Vegas. The name of the site was officially changed to the "Nevada National Security Site" this past August.

In 1992, the United States announced a moratorium on nuclear tests that produce an explosion. Meanwhile, since 1997, the nation has conducted subcritical nuclear tests, arguing that the tests are needed to maintain the reliability of its nuclear arsenal.


Subcritical nuclear tests
Subcritical nuclear tests are not accompanied by nuclear explosions, as the small amount of nuclear material used is designed to prevent the critical state in which a chain reaction of nuclear fission occurs. Two of the subcritical nuclear tests conducted by the United States since 1997 were held in conjunction with the United Kingdom. Russia, too, has conducted subcritical nuclear experiments on the island of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic zone.

(Originally published on October 13, 2010)

A-bomb survivors react to U.S. subcritical nuclear test

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

On September 12, when it was revealed that the United States has conducted a subcritical nuclear test for the first time in four years, anger and dismay was stirred among A-bomb survivors (hibakusha).

Sunao Tsuboi, chairman of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, said with indignation: "Hibakusha are opposed to any nuclear test conducted by any nation. Amid the brighter prospects for nuclear abolition that have begun to emerge as a result of such events as the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference held this past May, such tests are impermissible."

Kazuo Okoshi, secretary-general of the other faction of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, chaired by Kazushi Kaneko, criticized the United States, saying, "This is a double standard running counter to the world without nuclear weapons that has been advocated by U.S. President Barack Obama. Neither Hiroshima nor international opinion will remain silent over this test." The confederation plans to stage a sit-in protest in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Hiromichi Umebayashi, special advisor to Peace Depot, an NGO in Yokohama, who is well versed in U.S. nuclear weapons issues, pointed out the correlation between the dramatic increase in the nuclear budget by the Obama administration and the current circumstances. He warns: "This test can be used to appeal to conservative forces in the United States that the nation will retain its nuclear deterrence. It will lead to preserving various technologies to restart underground nuclear tests."

The City of Hiroshima sends a letter of protest, via the U.S. Embassy in Japan, every time the United States conducts a subcritical nuclear test. According to a staff member of the City's Peace Promotion Division: "Detailed information about the test has not been obtained yet. The response will be determined after we confirm the facts through the embassy."

(Originally published on October 13, 2010)

Related articles
U.S. plans major increase in nuclear budget (March 12, 2010)
U.S. plans to conduct subcritical nuclear experiments (Nov. 20, 2009)