Trump administration turns its back on global public opinion with first subcritical nuclear test

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

The Kyodo News Service has reported that the quarterly report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) revealed that the United States conducted a subcritical nuclear test that did not produce a nuclear explosion, using plutonium, in the western part of the state of Nevada in December 2017. This test was the first under the administration of President Donald Trump and the first time in five years, the 28th such test carried out by the United States. The NNSA stated that the effectiveness of a newly designed nuclear weapon had been verified. The United States suspended underground nuclear testing in 1992 and began to conduct subcritical nuclear tests in 1997, contending that these tests are not prohibited by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Commentary: Questioning the U.S. nuclear arsenal and Japan’s attitude

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

It is now known that the Trump administration conducted its first subcritical nuclear test in December 2017. This test is a reflection of the administration’s explicit policy of maintaining nuclear weapons into the distant future. It is clear that the United States is turning its back on international public opinion, which sees nuclear abolition as an urgent issue, as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons demonstrates.

In February 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the Trump administration’s statement of its policy position, and this statement indicates that the United States will seek to develop low-yield nuclear weapons that can be used with less hesitation. While the United States has pushed for the denuclearization of North Korea, it has also asserted that it will not ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans underground nuclear tests.

The report involving a plan to manage the U.S. nuclear arsenal that the U.S. Department of Energy presented to Congress in the fall of 2017 also included the objective of enhancing the U.S. capability to perform subcritical nuclear experiments by the mid 2020s. The United States is expected to continue performing subcritical nuclear tests.

No matter which administration is in place, the United States clings to its nuclear weapons. The plan to fortify that nation’s nuclear arsenal has been carried over from the second term of the former Obama administration. Even as former President Barack Obama called for “a world without nuclear weapons,” the country persisted in conducting four subcritical nuclear tests. Moreover, it has continued to conduct nuclear experiments with devices that include the “Z machine” to assess the performance of nuclear weapons, since the time of the former administration.

One of the well-worn arguments that the United States uses to justify its nuclear tests is the contention that “reliable nuclear deterrence must be ensured to protect our allies.” And the first name on that list of allies is the A-bombed nation of Japan. Even when it became clear that a subcritical nuclear test had been performed, the Japanese government made no protest, saying only that it was not an explosion experiment that runs counter to the CTBT.

However, the situation has changed since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was established in July 2017. The treaty goes a step further than the CTBT and completely prohibits nuclear testing, including tests that produce no nuclear explosion. If the treaty goes into force, the United States, by persisting in its program of nuclear testing, and Japan, by condoning these tests as a U.S. ally, will come under even harsher criticism from people in and out of Japan.

A-bomb survivors react with anger

On October 10, when it was learned that the United States had conducted the first subcritical nuclear experiment under the Trump administration in December 2017, people in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima expressed anger over the U.S. stance, which runs counter to efforts to realize a world without nuclear arms. Some voiced concern about the growing competition of a nuclear arms race.

Toshiyuki Mimaki, 76, vice chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), said he was outraged by the actions of the United States, in carrying out its first nuclear test in five years. He said, “Where is the world headed with Mr. Trump in charge? It’s outrageous.” With the gradual ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in mind, as well as the Hibakusha Appeal Network and its efforts to advance nuclear abolition, Mr. Mimaki criticized Mr. Trump by saying, “He’s ignoring the wishes of the people. This shows that he doesn’t care at all about other people in the world. All he cares about is the U.S.”

Kunihiko Sakuma, 73, chair of the other Hiroshima Hidankyo, said, “It sounds like the U.S. won’t give up its nuclear weapons. In that case, it won’t be able to press other countries to denuclearize,” and expressed concern that momentum for nuclear disarmament, including talks with North Korean over denuclearization, will be lost. He added, “The Japanese government says that it will serve as a bridge between the nuclear and non-nuclear nations, but promoting the development of nuclear weapons is incompatible with abolishing them. If the government shares the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons, it should openly demand that the nuclear nations halt this development.”

In February 2018, the United States released the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which includes its intention to develop smaller nuclear weapons. Haruko Moritaki, 79, the co-chair of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA), a citizens’ group, said, “We know that the U.S. was already making diligent efforts to develop new nuclear weapons before the NPR was released. The nuclear arms race involving the U.S., Russia, and China is likely to intensify, making this a dangerous situation.”

(Originally published on October 11, 2018)