Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Nuclear Weapons

A very recent Congressional Research Service issue brief for the U.S. Congress on “Nuclear Weapons: Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty” gives astonishing facts. Until June 2006 over 2000 nuclear tests are performed worldwide, almost all by four members of the G-8. The US conducted 1030, the Soviet Union 715, the UK 45 and France 210.

The last test held by the US (in cooperation with the UK) was on February 23, 2006 at the Nevada test site. The test is classified as “subcritical experiment,” meaning explosive force of less than 150 kilotons (equivalent of 150 000 tons of TNT), or ten times the force of the Hiroshima bomb. It is because, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty of 1974 banned underground weapons test exceeding that limit. Since 1997, the US held 22 such “experiments.” The Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (signed in 1976) extended the 150 kt limit to nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes. No, it is not a joke!

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which aims at banning all nuclear explosions, is still not in force. It is because most important countries such as the US, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and North Korea have either not signed or ratified it. As of June 2006, 176 states had signed it and 132 had ratified.

It is an irony that even though the US has not ratified the CTBT, FY2007 budget requested over $6 billion to monitor events that might violate the Treaty. Also, the US administration warned N. Korea in May 2005 that if the country conducts a nuclear test the US would take punitive action. Another, “do what I say but do not do what I do” type of policy!

Maybe some countries think that there is no need for such a Treaty. But numbers tell that there is an urgent need.

An article in July/August 2006 issue of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists[1] states that more than 128,000 nuclear warheads have been built since 1945. Approximately 55% by the US and 43% by Russia. Today nine nuclear states[2] possess about 27,000 intact nuclear warheads (down from the high of 70 000+ in 1986). Almost half of that (12,500) is considered operational, with the balance in reserve or retired and awaiting dismantlement.

As of 2006, here is the nuclear warheads stockpile situation: The US 10 104 (of which 5735 is operational), Russia 16 000 (of which 5830 is operational), the UK 200, France 350, China 200, India and Pakistan 110, N. Korea 10 and Israel 60-85. Yearly data from 1945 to 2006 is given in the article. For a detailed counting see also Natural Resource Defense Council data.

According to the recently released SIPRI Yearbook 2006, at the beginning of 2006, the five states defined in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as nuclear weapon states—China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA—continued to deploy approximately 12 300 operational nuclear weapons, which is in line with the article cited above.

However, SIPRI Yearbook 2006 states that if all warheads are counted—deployed, spares, those in both active and inactive storage, and ‘pits’ (plutonium cores) held in reserve—the five (NPT) states possessed an estimated total of 32 300 warheads.[3] This figure is way above the estimates in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists number, 27000.

The difference might be attributed to the unknown size of stockpiles in the UK and France as well as Plutonium pits in the US. In any case, Hans M. Kristensen, who is the coauthor in both studies, has a website where he gives some further numbers and updates.

I would love to know how many of the total active nuclear warheads were hanging around in the same waters with the fishes I have eaten. Does that sentence make sense? I mean nuclear submarines.

The US Navy’s Ohio (SSBN-726) class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines carry nuclear warheads almost equivalent to India and Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile. They are commonly called Trident submarines because they carry Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles. See more info on the US Ballistic Missile Submarine Forces. By the way, replacing Trident is still discussed.

In a rather old “50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons” piece of Brooking Institution, it was stated that 11 U.S. nuclear bombs lost in accidents and never recovered. A more recent estimate puts this figure at 96 (the source is not verified). A BBC article mentions six lost nuclear submarines (including the Russian Kursk) which still lie on the ocean floor.

Have you heard the word “corrosion”? The least time I looked at the dictionary that word still existed.

What a funny world we are living in. Full of disinformation.

People prefer talking on civilian nuclear accidents and close their eyes for military ones.

“What to do with North Korea” is the headline in CNN.

Never ending talks and blames on Iran over nuclear ambitions.

When will we see headlines like “what to do 30,000+ nuclear warheads? What to do with lost nuclear bombs? What do to with damage caused to Mother Nature by Nuclear tests?”

Was that an issue in that famous G8 meeting?

Leave at least the Mother Nature alone.

See you where parallels intersect.

[1] Robert S. Norris and Hans M. Kristensen, “Global nuclear stockpiles, 1945-2006”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 62, no. 4, July/August 2006, pp. 64-66.
[2] USA, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.
[3] Shannon N. Kile, Vitaly Fedchenko and Hans M. Kristensen, Appendix 13A. World nuclear forces, 2006, SIPRI Yearbook 2006, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, June 2006.


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