Subcritical nuclear test not announced beforehand, admits U.S. official

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Advance notice unlikely for future tests

The subcritical nuclear test conducted on September 15, the first test under the administration of President Barack Obama, was not announced in advance admitted a spokesperson on October 13 at the Nevada National Security Site, the U.S. Department of Energy test site where the test was conducted. In the past, an announcement was made prior to each of the 23 subcritical nuclear tests. The spokesperson also said it is likely that future tests will also be announced after the fact. An expert on nuclear disarmament has suggested this move shows that the Obama administration is trying to minimize the negative effects of the test on international opinion.

The United States started conducting subcritical nuclear tests in 1997. Customarily, the media and other organizations were notified of the plan to perform a test 48 hours in advance. The spokesperson said future test plans will not necessarily be announced ahead of time. The announcement of the next test, which is planned to be conducted by early next year, will probably be made after the test.

As for the reason why the plan of the latest test was not announced beforehand, the spokesperson said that past announcements were made in advance only as a courtesy, stressing that such decisions fall under the department's own discretion. The official also said that subcritical nuclear tests are a part of the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP), and that other experiments and programs related to the SSP are not announced in advance.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) does not ban nuclear tests which avoid detonations. However, despite the fact that subcritical nuclear tests do not involve explosions, there is a persistent belief that the tests are needed to maintain an effective nuclear deterrent capability for an extended period of time. They are also felt to run counter to the basic spirit of the CTBT.

Mitsuru Kurosawa, an expert on nuclear disarmament and professor at Osaka Jogakuin College's graduate school, proposes the view that the United States decided not to announce the test in advance because it is concerned about the negative impact the test will have on international opinion. He also feels this may signal the administration's consideration and message to U.S. conservatives who are concerned about maintaining the reliability of the nation's nuclear arsenal.


The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear tests which cause explosions in the atmosphere, outer space, or underground. This treaty has been signed by 182 nations and ratified by 153, including Japan. In order to enter into force, the treaty must be ratified by all 44 nations that possess nuclear power reactors or research reactors. But the United States, China, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia and Israel have not ratified it. North Korea, India and Pakistan have not yet signed it. The Obama administration has set early ratification as a goal, but there are arguments from conservatives that subcritical nuclear tests are not sufficient to maintain nuclear deterrence.

(Originally published on October 14, 2010)

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