Source: THE NATION, Title: “Virtual Nukes—When is a Test Not a Test?,” Date: June 15, 1998, Author: Bill Mesler
SSU Censored Researchers: Kelly Dahlstrom and Tom Ladegaard SSU
Faculty Evaluator: Sue Garfin
When scientists in India conducted a deep underground test on May 11, it was seen as a violation of the United Nation’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, two months before, the United States carried out a test that went largely unnoticed by the American media. Codenamed “Stagecoach,” the U.S. experiment called for the detonation of a 227-pound nuclear bomb at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nevada Test Site, which is co-managed by Bechtel Corporation, Lockheed Martin, and Johnson Controls. While perceived as a hostile act by many nations of the world, government officials claim that since it was a “subcritical” test, meaning no nuclear chain reaction was maintained, it was “fully consistent with the spirit and letter of the CTBT.” Furthermore they claim it was necessary to ensure the “safety and reliability” of America’s aging nuclear arsenal.
Disputing this “safety and reliability” claim, foreign leaders believe that “Stagecoach” was in fact designed to test the effectiveness of America’s weapons if, and when, they are ever used again. Though India refused to sign the Treaty because it wasn’t comprehensive enough, the countries that did felt the CTBT would halt new weapons development and promote the move toward disarmament. The European Parliament issued an official warning to the United States declaring that further experiments might open the door for other nations to progress to full-scale testing. Leaders from China and Japan also harshly criticized the United States, calling for America to stop “skirting its responsibility for arms reduction.”
Underground experiments aren’t the U.S. government’s only method of subverting the treaty, says The Nation. In July 1993, Clinton introduced the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) which allots $45 billion over the next 10 years to finance new research facilities. Even when adjusted for inflation, this amount is larger than the per-year budget during the Cold War when much of the cost went to actually producing the nuclear arsenal. While the CTBT prohibits the “qualitative improvement of nuclear weapons,” this program will fund the building of nuclear accelerators, giant x-ray machines, and the largest glass laser in the world.
One of the most controversial elements of the SSP is the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI), which is intended to develop a “full-system, full-physics predictive code to support weapons designs, production analysis, accident analysis, and certification”—in other words, a virtual nuclear testing program. The ASCI will create a $910 million network of powerful supercomputers that will allow scientists to continue developing and testing new weapons without attracting the wrath of actual experimentation. Despite this, DOE officials still insist the SSP was born only to maintain the safety of the current stockpile.
Other government officials claim the U.S. nuclear policy is heavily influenced by non-scientific factors. Referring to the powerful nuclear lobby, one anonymous Clinton Administration official explained that, “In order to get the treaty through Congress, we had to buy off the labs.” While the SSP may be viewed as the U.S. “cost” of the Test Ban, further testing, real or virtual, could have untold consequences for the world.
UPDATE BY AUTHOR BILL MESLER: “On December 9, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) conducted its fifth subcritical nuclear weapons test at the Nevada test site. A DOE press release claimed that the test was carried out to ‘ensure the safety and reliability of the stockpile without nuclear testing.’ On the same day as the U.S. test, Russia conducted a subcritical test at its site at Novaya Zemlya. In defending the experiment to the press, Russian officials pointed to the U.S. test as proof that subcritical tests of nuclear weapons are permissible under the Compre-hensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
“There are no signs that either country will change its policy on subcritical nuclear testing. Nor does the DOE appear ready to end other activities in the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP) that violate the principals and goals of the CTBT. Many American anti-nuclear groups remain reluctant to raise these issues because they fear it will hamper already difficult efforts to get the Republican Congress to ratify the treaty itself. Despite overwhelming opposition to nuclear testing, the vast majority of Americans remain ignorant of the controversy surrounding the SSP.”
In August of 1999, on the anniversaries of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Peace Action Network will hold a demonstration at Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, to demand an end to subcritical nuclear testing and the SSP.
To learn more about this issue and what you can do to help stop continued nuclear weapons testing, contact:
The Nuclear Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Tel: (202) 289-6868, e-mail: [email protected].
Peace Action Network, contact Bruce Hall, Tel: (202) 862-9740.