Editorial: U.S. tests capability of nuclear weapons

What happened to “a world without nuclear weapons”?

The United States has announced that it conducted two tests to examine the capabilities of its nuclear weapons last year. Since 2010 a total of eight such tests have been conducted. Having said North Korea’s underground nuclear test was unacceptable, is the U.S. suggesting that it’s natural for it to conduct tests to retain its own nuclear weapons?

The international community agrees on the need to dissuade North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. The double standard of the U.S. just gives North Korea an excuse to justify its nuclear program. No matter the country, the purpose of nuclear testing is to develop and maintain nuclear weapons.

Late last year the U.S. also conducted a subcritical nuclear test. The U.S. is only getting farther and farther from the “world without nuclear weapons” that President Obama has advocated. Numerous protests have been lodged by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is only natural.

The latest tests were conducted at a laboratory in New Mexico using a device called a “Z machine.” A small amount of plutonium is exposed to strong X-rays to create temperatures and pressure nearly as high as those at the moment of a nuclear explosion, and then the reaction is studied. This latest type of test is intended to supplement subcritical nuclear tests.

The new test does not reach criticality, at which a large explosion would occur. For this reason, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an agency under the U.S. Department of Energy, regards these tests as separate from underground nuclear tests.

But the only reason the U.S. is able to conduct these tests is that it has conducted more than 1,000 underground, atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests and accumulated a tremendous amount of data.

If a precedent is set, other countries may decide to continue their nuclear development programs. The high-handedness of countries that possess nuclear weapons must not be overlooked. This is another reason for Hiroshima and Nagasaki to continue to speak out.

Four times a year the NNSA announces how many times tests related to the maintenance of nuclear weapons were conducted. It appears to be a consistent policy that demonstrates no regard for whether or not this is the time to apply pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear development program.

Rather than considering international opinion in favor of the abolition of nuclear weapons, the Obama administration seems to place priority on courting public opinion at home. Tests such as those conducted using the Z machine will become a bargaining chip in the effort to bring about ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In the U.S. Senate, which has the authority to ratify treaties, the Republican Party opposes ratification of the CTBT saying it will bring an end to U.S. nuclear superiority. Meanwhile, the Obama administration cites a loophole in the CTBT to make a case for the tests, asserting that any number of tests can be conducted as long as they are not accompanied by an explosion. The U.S. has also allocated a tremendous budget for the maintenance of its nearly 8,000 nuclear warheads.

The international community earnestly desires the implementation of the CTBT. Meanwhile the treaty is being used by the U.S. as a basis to continue its nuclear tests. This is a huge paradox.

This demonstrates that the lack of progress on “a world without nuclear weapons” is not just a question of Mr. Obama’s earnestness. How closely is the U.S., which insists on maintaining a nuclear arsenal, being scrutinized? Hiroshima must make an even greater effort to influence U.S. public opinion.

But the Japanese government’s stance is throwing cold water on the pleas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yesterday Yoshihide Suga, Chief Cabinet Secretary, stated that Japan had no intention of lodging a protest with the U.S.

The U.S. has repeatedly declared that the measures it is taking to maintain its nuclear weapons are intended to reassure its allies. It is not only the U.S. that must be taken to task. This latest test demonstrates the inconsistency of Japan, which seeks the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella while calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on March 13, 2013)