Editorial: U.S. subcritical nuclear test is a reckless act contradicting the Nobel Peace Prize

It has been revealed that the United States, on September 15, conducted a subcritical nuclear experiment for the first time in four years. This was the first such test since U.S. President Barack Obama took office.

President Obama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, is supposed to be engaged in the pursuit of "a world without nuclear weapons." Performing a nuclear test, however, clearly runs counter to this course. The A-bombed city of Hiroshima cannot possibly condone this act.

At the nuclear test site deep under the ground, reactions and changes involving nuclear weapons are checked by sending shock waves to plutonium, with the help of high explosives. This is a subcritical nuclear experiment, which has been repeated since 1997, on the grounds of monitoring the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

This is the 24th subcritical nuclear test by the United States. The question is why the Obama administration would decide to go ahead with such a test.

In this context, what can be seen is a "double standard" by which the Obama administration advocates the ultimate goal of nuclear abolition, while maintaining its current nuclear capability. The administration announced a year ago that it would conduct three subcritical nuclear tests.

The United States argues that subcritical nuclear tests are not subject to the restrictions imposed by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), since such tests do not involve a nuclear explosion.

At the same time, the nation aims to examine whether the nuclear arms in its possession hold the intended power. It is evident that the United States is making provision for the potential use of these weapons. The nation's attitude in this regard is far from the spirit of the treaty designed to prevent nuclear war.

Some experts, including those in the United States, point out that nuclear experiments are no longer necessary if the nation's sole aim is the maintenance of its nuclear arsenal. Though the Obama administration has said that it will "not develop new types of nuclear weapons," doubts are not erased with such assurances.

Compared to previous tests, one key difference involves the fact that the United States did not make an announcement about the test beforehand. The administration also indicated that it has no plan to make prior announcements about future tests. This attitude has awakened distrust in terms of information disclosure as well.

This reckless act will have a significant impact on the international community, too. It is feared that valuable momentum for nuclear disarmament will be lost, as the United States, at home and abroad, has demonstrated its intention not to give up its nuclear weapons in the future.

A year has passed since the decision was made, in the hope of nuclear disarmament, that Mr. Obama would be given the Nobel Peace Prize. It is not an exaggeration to say that the international community has continued to feel disappointment in the U.S. attitude since then.

At the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May, the United States took sides with those who sought to take the teeth out of the draft action plan for nuclear abolition that was proposed by the Non-aligned Movement countries. The nation has persistently adopted a backward-looking posture with regard to the establishment of an epoch-making nuclear weapons convention as well.

Though the United States concluded a new nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia, there is much criticism that the treaty is a cozy deal on the reduction of the number of nuclear weapons.

According to U.S. plans, two more subcritical tests will be conducted. If the nation continues on this course, it will promote a "vicious cycle" which spurs the spread of nuclear weapons to Iran, North Korea, and international terrorist organizations.

Also of concern is the lackadaisical response by the Japanese government. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said that the Japanese government did not intend to lodge a protest against the test. With this attitude, the current administration is no different from the previous administration led by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan no doubt remembers the declaration he made at the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima on August 6 when he said that Japan would lead international efforts for a world without nuclear weapons. It stands to reason, then, that Japan should demand the suspension of nuclear testing by the United States.

Hiroshima has had growing expectations of the Obama administration since witnessing the first formal participation by a U.S. official, Ambassador John Roos, at the Peace Memorial Ceremony, among other positive signs. All the more for these expectations, a large number of A-bomb survivors surely feel "betrayed." The citizens of the A-bombed city should raise their voices in protest and appeal widely to international public opinion.

(Originally published on October 14, 2010)