World Nuclear Test Day: What to Know

World Nuclear Test Day: what it is and why to celebrate it

It is celebrated today the World Nuclear Test Day, an anniversary wanted by the General Assembly of the United Nations to raise awareness on the risks of nuclear tests for war purposes. The initiative goes hand in hand with the implementation of the Treaty on the total ban on nuclear tests, ratified in 1996 but nevertheless never entered into force. But what are the objectives of this world day, why is it celebrated on August 29 every year and, above all, why participate?

As already mentioned, the World Nuclear Test Day only concerns awareness-raising activities to call for a stop to military experiments, such as the creation of new atomic bombs or the refinement of existing ones. In spite of common beliefs, this anniversary does not concern scientific research on nuclear power used for positive purposes, such as the study of new and safer technologies for the exploitation of the atom to produce energy.

What is World Nuclear Test Day

World Nuclear Test Day was born on December 2, 2019, at the behest of theUnited Nations General Assembly, with the unanimous adoption of resolution 64/35. The chosen date is that of August 29 and it is anything but random. On this day, in fact, in 1991 the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan closed, where the then Soviet Union conducted more than 450 uncontrolled atomic tests.

The anniversary wanted by the United Nations aims to sensitize Member States, governments, institutions, governmental and non-governmental organizations to total renunciation of nuclear tests for war purposes.

In fact, the establishment of a ban on military testing of nuclear weapons is considered a primary objective to guarantee man a future free of atomic conflicts which – at the state of the art of current technologies – could prove to be extremely destructive for the Planet.

Furthermore, this initiative aims to inform public opinion and the various national governments on the importance of the Treaty on the total ban on nuclear tests. An agreement which, although ratified in 1996, has not yet found application. Generally speaking, the United Nations General Assembly considers nuclear tests:

  • A danger and a obstacle to peace globally, because the nuclear arms race only increases tensions between countries and increases the risk of nefarious atomic conflicts;
  • And damage to ecosystems where these tests are conducted;
  • And danger to humansespecially if conducted by nations that do not offer sufficiently transparent data on the power of the tests carried out and on the possible exposure to the consequent radiation.

The Treaty on the total ban on nuclear tests

The continued opposition to the entry into force of the Treaty on the total ban on nuclear tests is one of the reasons that led to the establishment of the World Nuclear Test Day.

Drafted from 1993 to 1996, this treaty – also known as CTBTfrom English “Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty”- was adopted on 10 September 1996 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, within the Conference of Disarmament.

This is an evolution of the previous Treaty on the partial ban on nuclear tests, dating back to 1962, which limited the environments in which the experiments could be conducted.

Despite the adoption in the 90s of the last century, the CTBT never entered into force, that is, it has never been applied. This is due to the grievances of some world powers – such as China, the United States and Russia – which continue to consider these tests necessary. According to the opposing nations:

  • The ban on war-related experiments would prevent countries from updating their nuclear arsenals or starting to acquire them, for those who do not yet have them, thus causing enormous disadvantages in the event of a conflict;
  • It would limit the maintenance of existing bombs and cyclical testing of existing technologies, as it would prevent the explosion of bombs for study purposes.

The best known and most damaging nuclear tests in history

When you think about nuclear weaponsthe images of the atomic bomb dropped on can only spring to mind Hiroshima in 1945, at the end of the Second World War. Yet in the course of the following decades there were numerous tests and as many explosions, with powers even higher than those released on the Japanese territory.

But what are the best known, most dangerous and harmful nuclear tests in history?

From the Second World War to the postwar period

Trinity nuclear explosion

The outbreak of World War II was the engine for an intense acceleration on nuclear testing. The major world powers – starting with the United States – wanted to demonstrate that they were in possession of extremely dangerous and destructive weapons.

This push continued even at the end of the conflict, continuing until the early 1970s. Numerous experiments are recorded in this period of time. But what are some of the best known?

  • Trinity: it is the first nuclear test in history, conducted by the USA at the Alamogordo polygon, in New Mexico. The experiment, included in the Manhattan Project, was a prerequisite for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was conducted on July 16, 1945.
  • Ivy Mike: also conducted by the United States, the experiment took place on November 1, 1952 to verify the first hydrogen bomb, H-bomb, ever produced. It involved the Marshall Islands, in the Pacific Ocean;
  • Castle Bravo: which became infamous as the nuclear test of the Bikini Atoll, it was conducted by the United States on March 1, 1954, to verify the power of the new solid fuel fusion thermonuclear devices. The power was 1,000 times higher than the Hiroshima bombs but, due to a then poor knowledge of the properties of the lithium used for the bomb, the explosion was at least three orders of magnitude higher than assumed. Radioactive emissions were high and more than 67,000 people suffered the consequences, particularly on the nearby islands of Rongrik and Utirik;
  • Bomb Dice: between the 1950s and 1960s, the then Soviet Union conducted numerous tests on atomic devices. One of the best known is the one on the so-called Bomba Zar, the most powerful and destructive hydrogen bomb ever made. The experiment, conducted on October 30, 1961 in Mitjušicha bay, led to great devastation. The total destruction radius was 35 kilometers.

From the 70s to the present day

Test nucleari Baneberry

The destructive potential of the Tsar Bomb, also known as Big Ivan, scared the whole world. But this did not prevent the continuation of nuclear tests, which remained stable from the 1970s until the 1990s. It is practically impossible to list them all at this juncture, among the most important are:

  • Baneberry: conducted by the United States on December 18, 1970, it was one of the most damaging nuclear tests, due to an accident that occurred in the testing phase. The scenario was Nevada, where the US dug a tunnel 275 meters deep and about 2 meters in diameter, to check for an explosive device underground. Once the bomb dropped, a crack opened in the ground at 90 meters, which led to the rising to the surface of radioactive dust and vapors. These then spread with the rains over the whole of Nevada, with consequences on the population, such as the significant increase in cases of fatal leukemia;
  • Mururoa: since the 1960s, France has chosen Polynesia to conduct numerous submarine nuclear tests, which later resulted in a great controversy in the 1990s. The experiments conducted in that decade became a real media phenomenon. The protests were global, due to the possible consequences of radiation – it was assumed 500 times higher than expected – for marine ecosystems and local populations. The tests stopped in 1996;
  • North Korea: among the most recent nuclear tests are those conducted by North Korea. Experiments that generate concern at the international level as the Pyongyang regime does not provide information on the activities. The most dangerous are thought to have been conducted in 2009 and 2017, for testing of both nuclear and hydrogen fission bombs. It is still not clear today whether the explosions may have had consequences on the territories and local populations. The cause is the little information that leaks from the country.

Short-term and long-term consequences of nuclear tests

Fish die-off

But what are the consequences in the short and long term of nuclear tests? While the governments involved have long claimed to consider these tests safe, in reality science has shown various effects.

In the short periodthe most common are:

  • Destruction of the testing sites and part of the natural habitat where they are led;
  • Loss of the whole animal fauna in the area where the experiment is conducted, if submarine;
  • Radiation dispersiontoxic fumes and radioactive dust due to unforeseen accidents – as happened in Nevada – or due to an incorrect assessment of the power of the explosion.

But there are also long-term effectsmany of which are detected by science today:

  • Increase of tumor pathologies for decades in the inhabited localities near the test sites, as in the case of Nevada or Mururoa;
  • Contamination long-term environments, so much so that on the atolls of Bikini there is still a radioactivity greater than the norm;
  • Alteration in the natural rhythms of growth of plant resources and multiplication of animal ones;
  • Contamination of the food chain. Even today in the USA there are honeys with levels of radioactivity above the norm, due to the tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.

Why it is important to participate

Given these premises, then why is it important to participate in the World Nuclear Test Day?

  • Preserve the planet and natural habitats: practically all the nuclear tests conducted have had various consequences on the existence of natural habitats and biodiversity. The consequences are noticeable even after decades, for example with the failure to regrow plant resources. In the midst of climate change, it is not conceivable to further damage natural areas;
  • Preventing risks in the event of conflicts: blocking war tests on the atom also means preventing the development of new, more harmful bombs, which could have a devastating impact on man and nature in the event of a conflict;
  • Reduce international tensions and the arms raceavoiding a competition between nations to win the most destructive device ever made.

Source: GreenStyle by

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