There has been lots of buzz lately about whether the United States has conducted nuclear tests over the past year. Yes Virginia, the US did, in fact, conduct tests intended to make sure that those thousands of nasty nukes in its arsenal will perform as they are designed should someone actually be crazy enough to launch one.
Of course, there was no mushroom cloud like the bad old days of atmospheric testing, or seismographic mayhem that was a telltale sign of underground tests of yore. Over the decades since the beginning of the nuclear age the U.S. conducted 1030 tests involving the detonation of a nuclear device (215 atmospherice and 815 underground) up until 1992.
The two tests (in November 2010 and March 2011) were conducted at Sandia National Laboratories Pulsed Power and Z Facility, and involved bombarding relatively small plutonium samples with extremely high energy X-rays to determine how it functions under extreme temperature and pressure.
This type of testing isn't anything like the detonation of a full scale nuclear weapon, but is still a "nuclear" test. Don't take my word for it however. The Sandia Labs press release for the March 2011 test said (in describing the test) that the:
"controlled radiation or magnetic pressure creates conditions on a small scale similar to those caused by the detonation of nuclear weapons, which is why from its earliest days pulsed power has been used to study weapons effects."Of course, this testing at Sandia is just one of many aspects of continuing efforts by the U.S. government to not only maintain, but to upgrade the nuclear weapons stockpiled and deployed in its arsenal. In addition to the work at the weapons laboratories - Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore - the entire manufacturing infrastructure is being completely rebuilt in order to continue modernizing the nation's nuclear arsenal.
Design, manufacturing, refurbishment, testing, upgrading... It all boils down to perpetuating a reliance on nuclear weapons, which have no purpose except to incinerate huge numbers of people and leave a radioactive wasteland in their wake. Testing is testing no matter how you cut it, and it is time to STOP.
The program of reliability testing and maintenance of U.S. nuclear weapons is referred to as "Stockpile Stewardship." The term stewardship is defined (by Merriam Webster) as "the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care."
If we are to be good stewards of the Earth and the life that inhabits it (including human life), how do people reconcile being stewards of weapons that by their very nature, if used in even a limited exchange, would contaminate the planet and create conditions that might extinguish life as we know it???
Note: The Japan Council against A and H Bombs (Gensuikyo) sent a protest note to President Barack Obama on May 23, regarding a news report that it had conducted a new form of nuclear tests in November 2010 and in March 2011. Following is the note.
May 23, 2011
Mr. Barack OBAMA
United States of America
We protest against your conducting a new form of nuclear tests and urge you to make efforts in good faith to achieve a world without nuclear weapons.
The U.S. Department of Energy (the National Nuclear Security Administration) made public by May 21 that it had conducted the new form of nuclear tests twice in November 2010 and in March 2011.
Your Government claimed that these tests were meant to maintain the reliability and efficacy of the nuclear weapons the U.S. already have in its possession. However, any nuclear-weapon test, irrespective of it may involve explosion or not, is aimed at ensuring the use or/and continued deployment of these weapons. This act obviously runs counter to both the objective of achieving “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” agreed upon by the NPT Review Conference in May 2010 and the promise you yourself made in Prague in April 2009.
We strongly urge you to abandon any plan of nuclear testing and nuclear development, and immediately undertake efforts for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the conclusion of a treaty totally banning nuclear weapons.