A-bomb survivors express anger over U.S. plan to conduct a “subcritical experiment” twice a year

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

People in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima expressed anger over the news the United States plans to conduct a subcritical experiment twice a year. Organizations calling for the abolition of nuclear arms fear the policy would have an influence on the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) scheduled next spring, as the frequency of nuclear tests might increase significantly.

Toshiyuki Mimaki, 77, acting chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organization (Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), said furiously, “Their decision to increase subcritical tests is outrageous. It could provoke other nuclear weapon states such as Russia, China or North Korea.”

The Pope, who visited Hiroshima in November, declared the use of atomic energy for purposes of war a “crime,” and the possession of nuclear weapons as immoral. Mr. Mimaki expressed his frustration saying, “Apparently, the Pope’s words did not impress U.S. president Donald Trump.”

Kunihiko Sakuma, 75, chair of the other Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo, gave an additional critique, saying, “It has become clear the United States is not moving toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, trying not only to keep weapons but also to make usable ones.” Believing “the early entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons could work to deter possible use of nuclear weapons,” he will focus on the Hibakusha Appeal, a signature-collecting campaign that will call on all nations to conclude the treaty.

Under the NPT regimes, dissatisfaction has built up among the non-nuclear weapon states because the nuclear weapon states do not pursue their nuclear disarmament efforts. A serious divide between the nuclear haves and have-nots has become a big problem to advance the preparation toward the review conference. Akira Kawasaki, 51, member of the international steering committee of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a non-governmental organization (NGO), points out; “What the United States is doing deviates from the essence of the NPT, which is to prevent the nuclear development race. It also goes against the NPT’s obligation of the nuclear weapon states to act for nuclear disarmament.” He said further, “The government and people of Japan should ask the United States openly, ‘Are you going to make more powerful nuclear weapons?’”

The policy to enhance U.S. capabilities to perform subcritical experiments was revealed in the annual report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy. The modernization of nuclear arsenals, such as renewing nuclear warheads, has been carried over from the former Obama administration to the Trump administration. The current administration makes it clear that they would expand the role of nuclear weapons by promoting the development and production of smaller-sized weapons.


Subcritical experiment
A subcritical experiment is one type of nuclear test simulation that does not include a nuclear explosion. It is conducted for the purpose of upgrading or confirming the safety and efficacy of nuclear weapons. High explosives are used to smaller amounts of fissile materials such as plutonium to study how nuclear materials react. No critical mass is formed, i.e., no self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction will occur. The United States stopped conducting underground nuclear tests in 1992, and began performing subcritical experiments in 1997. The country has carried out roughly 30 subcritical experiments since then. Even as former President Barack Obama called for a “world without nuclear weapons,” four tests were conducted under his administration. So far, the Trump administration has carried out two tests; one in December 2017 and the other in February 2019. The United States claims they do not violate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as the tests do not involve a nuclear explosion, but some criticize that it runs counter to the spirit of the CTBT. Russia has also performed the subcritical experiments.

(Originally published on December 24, 2019)