Editorial: Angry reaction from A-bombed city over U.S. continuing to conduct subcritical nuclear tests

It has been learned that the United States conducted a subcritical nuclear test in the state of Nevada in February of this year, following the previous nuclear test conducted in December 2017 under the Trump administration. Although a subcritical nuclear test does not involve a nuclear explosion, it does use extremely toxic plutonium, and at the nuclear test site, plutonium contamination has been detected. As a newspaper company based in the A-bombed city, we strongly protest these nuclear tests.

According to the United States, the test is designed to obtain data that can improve the safety of stored nuclear warheads under conditions that do not reach criticality. Critical conditions are created by impacting plutonium with explosives, which produces a chain reaction of nuclear fission. The United States stopped pursuing underground nuclear tests in 1992 and began performing subcritical nuclear tests in 1997.

Subcritical nuclear tests were conducted under the Obama administration, and two subcritical nuclear tests have been carried out under the Trump administration. Although former U.S. President Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize as a result of his famous speech in Prague where he promoted a world without nuclear weapons, the United States continued to possess nuclear arms under his administration.

Mr. Obama’s contradictory behavior seems to have made the Trump administration feel justified in its strategy of strengthening America’s nuclear arsenal. In February 2018, the Trump administration announced a policy aimed at expanding the role of nuclear weapons as “usable weapons.” Amid the widening divide between the nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states, the fact that the United States is openly furthering its research in the field of nuclear weapons constitutes a grave state of affairs.

After the previous subcritical nuclear test, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui sent a letter of protest to the United States. In response, the U.S. ambassador to Japan mentioned only that the United States hopes to work closely with Japan in seeking measures to strengthen and support the alliance between Japan and the United States. It is expected that Mr. Matsui will again protest the most recent U.S. nuclear test. It is unacceptable for the United States to dodge the subject by referring to the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Looking back on the past five years or so, the movement for nuclear abolition has clearly become a global movement. Driving that movement is the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted in July 2017 by 122 nations and regions, accounting for two-thirds of U.N. member states. In the words of Setsuko Thurlow, an A-bomb survivor living in Canada, nuclear weapons have always been immoral, and they are now also illegal.

Undertaking subcritical nuclear experiments is also illegal. The Nuclear Posture Review, released by the Trump administration, however, completely dismiss the nuclear weapons ban treaty by saying that the treaty is based on unrealistic expectations. In addition, the United States rebuked Russia for violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and deploying newly developed missiles, and subsequently announced its withdrawal from the INF Treaty. If the treaty expires in August without any mutual concessions between the two countries, the concern that nuclear disarmament could regress by 30 years cannot be dispelled.

It can be assumed that the United States wants to ensure that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is in top condition for use so it can be prepared for the risks that the United States or its allies might face. We need to urge the United States to explain not only its individual actions, such as these subcritical nuclear experiments, but also the very basis of its nuclear strategy.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Japan yesterday, May 25, and is scheduled to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 27. They will try to establish a trusting relationship amid rising tensions over North Korea and Iran, to which there is no objection. But at the same time, we urge Mr. Abe to object to subcritical nuclear tests from the perspective of the A-bombed country. After the nuclear test in February, a small amount of plutonium contamination was detected around a container holding nuclear material. To date, contamination caused by radioactive material at nuclear complexes in many parts of the world has become a serious issue. Authorities in the United States say that no deleterious effects have been detected outside nuclear complexes or nuclear test sites. However, we strongly urge them to cease all subcritical nuclear experiments immediately, determine what led to the contamination, and clarify the exposure to radiation fallout of people who are involved in nuclear testing.

(Originally published on May 26, 2019)