|SPLITTING THE ATOM|
Nuclear Bombs, Non-Proliferation and Test Bans
November 18, 1996
The Nuclear Weapons
Other Forum Topics
Recent efforts to pass a nuclear test ban
What are the benefits of the nuclear test ban treaty to the U.S.?
How are countries making it difficult to obtain nuclear material?
What is the situation in the former Soviet Union?
What type of control of nuclear weapons is there in other countries?
Can the world's nuclear arsenal really be dismantled?
A question from Don Emilio of Tampa, FL
Why was the President of France testing bombs last year? Do the leaders of countries control their nuclear program, or is it the scientists and the defense departments? What about Germany and Helmut Kohl? What about the Japanese, any chance that the country we dropped the bomb on will have the technology to do the same?
Kenneth Luongo of the Department of Energy responds:
French President Jacques Chirac announced in June of 1995 that France would conduct a limited number of nuclear tests to enhance their nuclear weapon test simulation capability and to ensure the reliability of their nuclear weapons. Six tests were conducted by January of 1996, at which time President Chirac announced the definitive end to French nuclear testing. The French have since taken steps to permanently close their nuclear test site in the South Pacific.
France, along with the four other nuclear weapon states the United States, the Russian Federation, China, and the United Kingdom, has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on the first day the treaty was open for signature (September 24, 1996). The signing of this treaty effectively ends the nuclear arms race and the ability to develop advanced new types of weapons. The treaty also precludes its states parties from confidently developing nuclear weapons through the use of nuclear tests. This treaty represents an important step towards reducing the global nuclear danger for future generations.
In addition, there is a strong international impediment to nuclear weapon development embodied in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the NPT), which has gained nearly universal adherence. As parties to the NPT, nations such as Germany and Japan have relinquished the right to develop nuclear weapons. Both nations have signed full-scope safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that enriched uranium and plutonium in their countries are under international monitoring. This treaty entered into force in 1970 and has recently been extended indefinitely.
Leonard Spector of the Carnegie Endowment responds:
France resumed nuclear testing in 1995 in anticipation of the upcoming conclusion of negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would ban all nuclear testing. Once France finished testing in January 1996, it threw its support behind the CTBT.
Since nuclear weapons are such deadly weapons with high political importance, their use is controlled by the top leaders of the countries possessing these arms. However, scientific and military bureaucracies may exert considerable influence over what kinds of weapons are developed and how they are deployed.
Both Germany and Japan have enough fissile material, either highly enriched uranium or plutonium, to build nuclear weapons and their large nuclear industries would probably allow them to develop the technology for actually manufacturing such arms in a short period of time. However, both countries, as non-nuclear-weapon-state members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty have pledged not to build nuclear arms and all of their nuclear facilities are under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which verifies these pledges.
Don Gross of the ACDA responds:
France's publicly stated reason was to develop the data base necessary to maintain the safety and reliability of their nuclear stockpile once the test ban went into effect. Whatever their motivations last year, there should be no more French tests. France has now signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and stated unequivocally that it is finished with testing.
Do the leaders of countries control their nuclear program, or is it the scientists and the defense departments?
It's all three working together; none of the groups mentioned could do it alone. Scientists and military professionals focus on the technical problems of creating the weapons and deciding how they will be deployed and targeted. But both groups are subordinate to political leaders who determine overall policy and work with other countries to reduce nuclear arsenals and make those that remain more stable and controllable.