Excerpt from 'Deception, Cover-up and Murder in the Nuclear Age'- "Manhattan Project and Army staff, although they were in even greater danger from Trinity's intense radiation at close range, apparently largely escaped harmful exposures. How? They were instructed by their superiors to... follow 'protective measures' such as closing windows, staying indoors, and even breathing through a slice of bread!" more
You are reading from a free online e-book titled 'Deception, Cover-up and Murder in the Nuclear Age.' The book discusses the Trinity test, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hydrogen bomb testing fallout, U.S. experiments done on Marshall Islanders (Project 4.1), the Irene Allen trial, Cosmos 954, the Fukushima meltdowns, Three Mile Island updates, and so much more. Visit the Table of Contents to find this free content.
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|Chapter 9 - Subcritical Nuclear Testing by the U.S.||
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NUCLEAR SECURITY: Nevada Test Site getting new life- Las Vegas Review Journal, September 14, 2009, By Keith Rogers
Japan: Peace Groups Say No to US Nuke Test - Political Affairs Magazine, September 12, 2006, By 'Akahata'
'How Bush Learned To Love the Bomb - Salon (via Der Spiegel), March 30, 2005, By Leigh Flayton
'A Subcritical Fallout - Planned nuclear tests by Washington raise a storm of protest', Outlook India, April 23, 1997, By Ludwina A. Joseph
'Take a hard look at subcritical tests' - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 21, 1996, by Frank von Hippel and Suzanne Jones
The technical details of subcritical tests
Subcritical nuclear experiments have been the closest thing to full-scale nuclear tests that any Western nation has conducted since the end of the Cold War. These experiments subject tiny amounts of plutonium to the force of the detonation of mining explosives. According to the U.S. Energy Department, which conducts these tests underground at the Nevada National Security Site's U1A complex, a vast 'warren' of roughly a mile of mined tunnels that were first excavated during the 1960s, the purpose of these tests is to study the aging properties of plutonium, which is the bomb fuel used in nuclear warheads.
Most subcritical tests subject weapons grade plutonium (Pu-239) to extreme compression, also called implosion, via high explosives or other shock-methods.6
The DOE no longer provides technical details on the subcritical tests but it does say that these 'hydrodynamic tests' involving small amounts of plutonium bombarded using conventional explosives are designed to create some of the physical conditions that fissile materials (i.e. plutonium) experience at the onset of a nuclear blast.
CTBT ban on subcritical tests
In 1995 several countries in the East voiced their opposition to 'stockpile stewardship' experiments - the categorical umbrella over modern-day subcritical tests - and further suggested that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) include language to ban these activities.4 In the end, the CTBT negotiating parties settled on language that bans all "nuclear explosions" but, curiously, no formal definition of that term exists in the treaty's text.
As it turns out, even when White House officials in the U.S. attempted to wrap their heads around the term, they were stumped. Officials in the Clinton Administration eventually decided that arriving at definition of that term was "unnecessary and would be problematic."
There have been 27 subcritical experiments since 1997, when President Bill Clinton first gave the Energy Department the authorization1 for their conduct, and nearly all of these tests have met with opposition from legislators in the nation's capital, leaders of other nations, and environmental and peace groups in the U.S. and even in Japan. Opponents of subcritical experiments have criticized the implications of the policy2 behind these tests more than any other environmental, fiscal or legal consideration.
There is no question that a policy of conducting underground experiments on plutonium material without independent monitoring or verification and absent any establishment of the scientific importance and the arms control treaty and proliferation impacts of the tests makes subcritical testing activities dubious, controversial and provocative. There is also no question that the Energy Department's real purpose for carrying out these tests has little to do with a physics study. We believe these tests are conducted primarily because the U.S. government wants to prime both its personnel's skill-sets and its key test facilities at the Nevada National Security Site to prepare for the possibility of treaty breakout and resumption of underground nuclear testing.3 The site is one of the globe's last remaining active nuclear proving grounds.
But there is some 'deeper' controversy about subcritical testing that goes beyond bad policy and hidden motives.
That 'something' goes to the heart of the debate of the post-Cold War: how do we curb proliferation and if banning 'nuclear explosions' significantly advances this goal, what is a 'nuclear explosion'?
Certainly if subcritical nuclear tests were judged to be nuclear explosions, then that would obviously be a significant discovery and pose serious problems for China, the U.K., the U.S., France and Russia, all of whom infrequently conduct these experiments.
What is a nuclear explosion
It is generally known that when countries carry out subcritical experiments the amount of plutonium that is bombarded by a small chemical explosion is so small that the 'fissile' material doesn't reach a 'supercritical' state. Supercriticality, in layman's terms, means that something 'goes nuclear.' But just because subcritical tests don't reach supercriticality doesn't mean that small amounts of the plutonium don't release 'nuclear energy.' Two authors of a 1996 article titled 'Take a hard look at subcritical tests' calculated that some of the plutonium in a subcritical nuclear experiment releases 'nuclear energy' equivalent to the explosion of about 100 billionths of a gram of TNT. Compare this to 'Fat Man,' the bomb device that exploded over Hiroshima in 1945, producing a 'yield' of 15,000 tons of TNT.
We tend to think of a 'nuclear explosion' as anything from a big, fiery, earth-quaking, mushroom-cloud forming bomb blast to a very small blast, like the ones North Korea has conducted in underground tunnels in 2006 and 2009. But could a nuclear explosion be anything smaller?
Could the lowest peg on the scale of a 'nuclear explosion' be a 'pop' or 'fizzle' like the puny breath of fire from one of the dragon babies in a Shrek movie sequel born to the character 'Donkey?'
Could a 0.0000001 gram TNT-equivalent explosion of plutonium constitute a 'nuclear explosion'?
If so, would a subcritical test be a 'nuclear explosion' too?
To explore this question, let's examine a metaphor to nuclear physics....boiling water.
Let's say that we live in a world where only coffeehouses can boil water. No civilian can boil water. It is against the law.
A new law is passed making boiling water a crime. Lawmakers and criminologists - with little knowledge and background in physics - believe that visible steam is the proof that water has been boiled. Thus, generation of steam is 'arrestable' - if steam is seen pouring out of a kettle, an iron, or a chimney, that person goes to jail.
But, as you probably have guessed, this 'law' is based on flawed knowledge. The presence of steam is one hallmark of boiling water. As soon as a container of water is heated, several molecules of water immediately reach the boiling point although to the human senses that water vapor isn't detectable. Only when a preponderance of water molecules reach the boiling point and a cloud of steam pours out of a kettle do we 'think' the water is boiling. But, in fact, when we see steam from a kettle the water is simply boiling a lot more than when we first turned on the heating element.8
So, if one wants to outlaw the boiling of water, he/she needs to outlaw any effort to heat water or induce extra molecules of water to evaporate. The presence of heat applied to a water source is what needs to be prohibited.
If an international community convenes to seek a ban on 'nuclear explosions' and its lawmakers and experts think that the release of radioactive gases, seismic shock and a visible flash is proof that an explosion has occurred, they are making a mistake. A nuclear explosion occurs the instant we induce even the smallest amount of plutonium or weapons-grade uranium to 'fission' (to split) and release energy.
The basic nature of the energy release during the Hiroshima blast is no different than the nature of the microscopic energy release when several plutonium atoms split as a small chemical blast compresses a small quantity of the fissile material. When just a single plutonium atom splits apart, that is a 'nuclear explosion.' It doesn't matter if a trillion-billion atoms split in one nanosecond or if one plutonium atom splits in a nanosecond. It is the same. It is the textbook definition of a nuclear energy release from the splitting of an atom. Just because you can't see the microscopic explosions occurring in tiny specks of plutonium atoms - each spewing neutrons to split the others - doesn't mean 'nothing happens.'
So, the post-Cold War emphasis on prohibition on nuclear explosions must include subcritical nuclear experiments. Actually, the prohibition must include every instance when someone induces even a single atom to split. Whenever someone bundles, pools, assembles or forms a collection of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium, they increase the 'events' of atomic fissioning in the material and thus increase total release of nuclear energy. Similarly, when someone bombards fissile materials with compression, or by conventional explosives, or shock waves, they induce 'nuclear explosions.'
The 'threshold' of a nuclear explosion is not defined by what we see, hear or smell, but rather what occurs at the atomic level.
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