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International Day Against Nuclear Tests

On September 6, the General Assembly convened an informal session to observe the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, which was established by the UN General Assembly in 2009 and is officially recognized on August 29 of every year.  Much of the meeting was dedicated towards remembering the victims of nuclear testing, particularly those living near the Semipalatinsk test site.  Additionally, there were numerous statements of support for CTBT entry into force, as well as calls for nuclear weapons states to maintain the de facto moratorium on nuclear testing.

The meeting began with a recorded address from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who reiterated his support, and the international community’s need, for entry into force of the CTBT.  He attempted to address concerns about the CTBTO’s technical capabilities when he said, “I reiterate my standing offer to visit the capital of any State that remains unconvinced about the reliability of the Treaty’s monitoring and inspection systems to answer questions and resolve their concerns.”

Prospects for Realizing the Full Potential of the CTBT

Presentation by Daryl G. Kimball
Executive Director, Arms Control Association
Moscow Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference
September 7, 2012

Distinguished colleagues, it is an honor to address you at this important meeting on the value of and the path forward on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Since the opening for signature of the CTBT nearly sixteen years ago, the vast majority of the world’s nations have signed and ratified the Treaty. They recognize that nuclear testing is a dangerous and unnecessary vestige of the past and understand that the CTBT is a cornerstone of the international security architecture of the 21st century.

The CTBT would reinforce the widely supported de facto global nuclear test moratorium.

By banning all nuclear weapon test explosions, the CTBT can help accomplish the indisputable obligation under the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons to cease the nuclear arms race at an early date and to achieve nuclear disarmament.

Marking the International Day Against Nuclear Tests

Today is the official International Day Against Nuclear Tests, established in 2009 on the anniversary of the closure of the main former Soviet test site of Semipalatinsk, where more than 456 nuclear explosions contaminated the land and its inhabitants.

Largely as a result of the courageous efforts of the Kazakh people to close down the Semipalatinsk site, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev declared a nuclear test moratorium on October 5, 1991. This, in turn, prompted a bipartisan coalition of U.S. legislators, including Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oregon), George Mitchell (D-Maine), Rep. Mike Kopetski (D-Oregon) and Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) to introduce legislation for a 1-year nuclear test moratorium legislation.

With strong popular support in the United States, the legislation gathered momentum and was later modified to mandate a 9-month U.S. testing halt and negotiations on a CTBT. The legislation was approved by strong majorities in the House and Senate in September 1992. The last U.S. nuclear test explosion was conducted at the Nevada Test Site on September 23, 1992.

The following year, after an intensive policy review, President Clinton extended the U.S. test moratorium and launched multilateral negotiations for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). With the help of international protests over French and Chinese nuclear testing in 1995 and 1996, governments agreed to adopt a “zero-yield” test ban, and the CTBT was opened for signature on September 24, 1996.

Nuclear Testing Index, August 29, 2012

Nuclear Testing Index, August 29, 2012

2,045: Total number of nuclear weapons tests before the CTBT was opened for signature in September 1996.
9.14 days: Average time between nuclear blasts.

7: Total number of nuclear weapons test explosions after the CTBT was opened for signature in September 1996.
831.4 days: Average time between nuclear blasts.

1,054: Total number of U.S. nuclear weapons tests, involving 1,148 detonations.
928: Number of nuclear weapons tests conducted in Nevada.
15 megatons: Total yield of the largest U.S. explosion, codenamed Bravo.

715: Total number of Soviet/Russian nuclear weapons test explosions.
456:Number of nuclear weapons tests conducted in Kazakhstan.
50 megatons: Approximate total yield of the Soviet Union’s Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear explosion to ever take place.

NAS Report Raises Awareness, Underscores Value of CTBT

The March 30 release of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) generated significant media attention, several opeds, and welcoming statements from key senators.

Released at a press briefing late on a Friday afternoon before a two-week Congressional recess, the NAS study -- "The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban - Technical Issues for the United States"-- might easily have been overlooked by the media and members of Congress.

Fortunately, long-awaited report was covered by several prominent news outlets.

Matt's Wald's story "U.S. Has No Need to Test Atomic Arsenal, Report Says" in The New York Times highlighted that the report’s conclusions “run counter to some of the arguments” used by opponents of the CTBT during the failed attempt to ratify the treaty in 1999.

“We’ve done life extension programs, and we’ve shown we’re able to reset the clock on these weapons,” said Marvin L. Adams, a professor of nuclear engineering at Texas A&M University and a co-author of the report said at the NAS report briefing. Judging from the last ten years, he said in The New York Times, “the summary conclusion is that: yup, it’s difficult, but, gosh, we can do it.”

North Korea Poised to Conduct Third Nuclear Test Explosion

No sooner than it had pledged on February 29 to halt long-range ballistic missile tests, nuclear testing, and uranium enrichment at its Yongbyong nuclear facility, the North Korean regime announced it would launch a long-range ballistic missile-ostensibly to lift a satellite into orbit. The April 12 launch failed shortly after liftoff, the fourth such long-range missile test failure.

While North Korea probably cannot miniaturize a nuclear warhead to fit on its missiles yet, a third nuclear test would allow them to make significant progress in that direction.

Now the governments of the United States, China, and other leading nations must focus on the difficult task of preventing North Korea from conducting another nuclear weapon test explosion.

In 2006 and 2009 we saw a cycle of escalation in which North Korea launched a long-range rocket, which drew international rebuke, and then North Korea responded with a nuclear test explosion on each occasion.

Another long-range ballistic missile test launch--even a failed one--is a problem. A ballistic missile test launch followed by another nuclear test explosion, followed by accelerated uranium enrichment activities, is a much more significant problem.

News reports and satellite analysis from experts at the Web site suggest that a North Korean nuclear test explosion could soon be conducted.

Marshall Islands People Still Suffering Decades After U.S. Nuclear Testing

From 1946-1958, the United States conducted a series of 67 atmospheric nuclear test explosions in the South Pacific that devastated the indigenous peoples in the Marshall Islands. During most of that time, the Marshall Islands was a part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands administered by the United States.

According to the preliminary findings of United Nations Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu the communities affected by nuclear testing over sixty years ago in the Marshall Islands have “yet to find durable solutions to the affected population."

“They feel like ‘nomads’ in their own country, and many have suffered long-term health effects,” he said. Georgescu is UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights obligations related to environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste. His is the first mission ever to the Republic of the Marshall Islands by an independent expert of the UN Human Rights Council.

“I have listened to the concerns and stories of affected communities from Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik. As a result of the nuclear testing, all of these communities have suffered dislocation, in one form or another, from their indigenous way of life,” he noted.

His report will be finalized and delivered to the UN Human Rights Commission this September.

NAS Report Builds Technical Case for CTBT Approval

Today, the U.S. National Academies of Science released its long-awaited update on technical issues related to the CTBT in Washington.

The independent panel of senior scientific and military experts was charged with reviewing technical changes related to the U.S. nuclear stockpile and to nuclear explosion test monitoring that have occurred in the ten years since the NAS’ 2002 report on the subject.

The study was requested by the Barack Obama administration in 2009 following the President’s call for “immediately” pursuing reconsideration and ratification of the treaty. Although the report was completed in early 2011, its release was delayed by an extensive declassification review lasting some 11 months.

The NAS panel concluded that the NNSA nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship program “has been more successful than was anticipated in 1999,” when the Senate last considered and voted on the CTBT. “Similarly,” the panel said, “the status of U.S. national monitoring and the International Monitoring System has improved to levels better than predicted in 1999.”

The new NAS study found that “provided that sufficient resources and a national commitment to stockpile stewardship are in place … the United States has the technical ability to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable stockpile of nuclear weapons into the foreseeable future without nuclear explosion testing.”