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North Korea's nuclear test: a wake-up call to end the madness

Posted by Martin Fleck on 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 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 (, 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

IPPNW blog

Washington Post, animated graphic of 2,054 nuclear tests including the latest DPRK test

WAND (an allied organization) "Special Statement"


Daniel Kerlinsky MD said ..

Ask me some time what role PSR played in the Clinton Administration decision to commit to a zero-yield CTBT and why Hazel O'Leary deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

March 28, 2016
Daniel Kerlinsky MD said ..

Follow the story in the Washington Post with me. The next treaty should negotiate the ban on any manufacture and renovation of nuclear weapons. "Hello Anna Fifield. This nuclear weapons story just won't leave you alone. So spend some time and dig in to the readers' questions about how far Japan and South Korea are from the scientific understanding and technical ability to mass produce nuclear weapons. Up till now, the world has built nuclear weapons by hand. Casting, polishing, measuring plutonium pits inside glove boxes. But no one, starting from scratch, would use anything but robotics to build nuclear weapons today. And a nuclear weapons assembly line could produce nuclear weapons as quickly as automobiles. What sort of metallurgy resources do Japan and South Korea have? Do they have hydrodynamic test facilities that could measure deformation and implosion of plutonium metal surrogate material? And what is the state of neutron science in your neck of the woods? Don't get caught up on how much enriched uranium and plutonium is available there now. What we want to know is whether the scientific and technical understanding and equipment is there to be able to mass-produce nuclear warheads small enough - say 500 lbs - to be mounted on a wide variety of ballistic delivery systems. This is not the pivot to Asia that anyone wants to see. But it ought to be clear to China that North Korea cannot match a neighborly nuclear arms race. The NPT regime must move forward with a new treaty banning all nuclear weapons manufacture and renovation... or face new geometries not here-to-fore imagined.

March 28, 2016
David Spence, MD said ..

An enforceable ban on ALL countries' nuclear weapons should be our goal.

February 4, 2016
Alex Stavis said ..

We must end the threat of nuclear warfare once and for all by destroying all nuclear weapons and not manufacturing any new nuclear weapons.

January 24, 2016
Richard Fischer said ..

The US should unilaterally eliminate all its nuclear weapons by 2017. The world World would gladly follow. Note: 2020 is the 75th anniversary of US nuclear attack on Japan. Over 6250 cities world wide are Mayors for Peace cities calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons by 6 August 2020.

January 20, 2016
Ralph Bobroski said ..

It is a top priority!

January 20, 2016
Ralph Bobroski said ..

It will destroy humanity!

January 20, 2016
Lois Brunelle said ..

I agree with PSR:the U.S. must ratify the CTBT. This alone gives U. S. leaders the necessary clout to move others to do the same. We should be moving AWAY from all nuclear testing for military use.

January 19, 2016
George G. Stradtman, Jr. said ..

ALL nuclear stockpiles needed to be eliminated.

January 19, 2016

Comments closed.