North Korea's nuclear test: a wake-up call to end the madness
January 19, 2016
On January 6, over 25 seismic monitoring stations associated with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty picked up tremors emanating from North Korea that indicated a potential atom bomb blast. Then North Korea announced that it had conducted its fourth nuclear weapon test since 2006, claiming to have exploded an "H-bomb." In response, disarmament-oriented organizations around the world (including PSR, IPPNW and ICAN) issued condemnations of the test, as did John Kerry, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Security Council, and the U.S. House of Representatives. Click here to read the press release from PSR.
On the positive side, the international furor over this North Korean test indicates how strong the global taboo has grown against testing nuclear weapons and having nuclear weapons.
North Korea's nuclear ambitions are a threat to world peace. But so are everyone else's. For perspective, let's keep in mind that prior to this latest North Korean nuclear test, the other 8 nuclear armed states had already conducted 2,054 nuclear tests. Testing for radioactive isotopes in the Pacific ocean show the greatest amounts are still from the "atmospheric" nuclear weapons testing halted over 53 years ago. And all nine nuclear weapons states are currently upgrading and improving their arsenals. In fact, the United States plans to spend $348 billion over the next 10 years maintaining, upgrading, and replacing parts of its nuclear weapons "enterprise."
What can we do here in the United States about North Korean nuclear weapons?
Plenty. The United States could heed the words of former Secretary of Defense William Perry in his new book, My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, "Nuclear weapons no longer provide for our security—they now endanger it." The United States could appropriately respond to these North Korean provocations--and help stop further nuclear weapons proliferation--by freezing spending on new nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles and encouraging the other nuclear-armed states to halt the nascent nuclear arms race. The administration could also sign onto the Humanitarian Pledge in support of a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons worldwide, and with other nations, engage in diplomacy with North Korea to encourage restraining its nuclear weapons program. Lastly, it is essential for the U.S. to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which the US signed back in 1996), and make bilateral arrangements with Russia for deep cuts to our nuclear arsenals, which account for over 90% of the nuclear weapons on the planet. The United States will be part of an "Open Ended Working Group" on nuclear disarmament which will convene in Geneva in February, 2016. This provides an excellent opportunity to further meaningful disarmament initiatives.
For tips on writing a letter to the editor responding to the North Korean test, click here.
Kim Jong-un claimed that North Korea had developed and tested an H-bomb. Is that true?
Judging by the seismic activity from the test site, this bomb was no larger in explosive yield than previous North Korean tests. Therefore, the "H-bomb" claim appears at this moment to be bluster. It may have been a "boosted" fission weapon. Several nations are assisting with detection of key nuclear byproducts of the test, in order to determine what sort of bomb this was. Within a few months, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization scientists will publish their determination of what sort of weapon was tested.
The largest U.S. test was March 1, 1954: "Castle Bravo," 15 megatons
How many nuclear tests has the United States conducted?
After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States began testing atomic bombs in the Pacific Islands and in Nevada. The United States has conducted more nuclear tests than any other nation: 1,032 of them between 1945 and 1992, including "atmospheric" tests (ground level, in the air, and underwater) that spewed radioactive contamination into the atmosphere. This includes 67 atmospheric tests in the Marshall Islands from 1946 and 1958, and 100 above-ground tests in Nevada from 1951-1958.
How many nuclear tests have the other nuclear-armed states conducted?
Soviet Union=715, France=210, UK=45, India=3, Pakistan=2, North Korea=4
Who is still testing?
The Soviet Union's last nuclear test took place in 1990; the UK in 1991, the U.S.in 1992, France and China conducted their last tests in January and July 1996. India and Pakistan both tested in 1998, and since then, North Korea has been the lone holdout.
What is the status of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)?
The CTBT is not "in force" because the U.S. and others have not ratified the treaty, but the network of 282 monitoring stations to detect and document testing is in place around the world. The explosion was picked up by seismic monitors belonging to the CTBT Organization (www.ctbto.org), which was established to monitor compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
For a detailed history of nuclear weapons tests around the world, click here.
The United States was the first nation to sign the CTBT in 1996. 183 nations have signed and 164 have ratified it. The United States is among a group of 44 "nuclear-capable" countries that must ratify before the treaty can enter into force. Of those 44, 36 have ratified, including Russia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Unsigned and unratified are India and Pakistan. Signed but unratified are China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, North Korea and the United States.
PSR strongly advocates for United States ratification of the CTBT as soon as possible which will push others--especially China--to do so as well.
For more resources on the North Korean nuclear test, see:
PSR Press Release
PSR Action alert on the N. Korean test
ICAN Frequently Asked Questions on the North Korean test
Washington Post, animated graphic of 2,054 nuclear tests including the latest DPRK test
WAND (an allied organization) "Special Statement"