Is the United States capable of quickly resuming nuclear testing?

According to the “Washington Post” report on May 15, 2020, senior officials of the US National Security Agency discussed the issue of restarting underground nuclear tests at the meeting that day. At the meeting, the National Nuclear Security Administration strongly opposed the resumption of nuclear testing. The meeting finally decided to take other measures to deal with the threats from China and Russia and avoid resuming nuclear testing. The report quoted a senior official who asked not to be named, “From a negotiation perspective, proving to Moscow and Beijing that the United States can quickly resume nuclear testing will be more helpful to promote the negotiations on the China-US-Russia trilateral arms control treaty.” One month later, on June 24, the US Special Representative for Arms Control Issues Marshall Billingsley once again revealed to the media during the US-Russian Arms Control Dialogue in Vienna that the United States does not see a reason to restart nuclear tests at this stage, but it does not. Eliminate the possibility of restarting nuclear tests, and will always maintain the ability to conduct nuclear tests at any time.

So, once the US government makes a decision to resume nuclear testing, can the US legally conduct nuclear testing? Does the US nuclear complex have the ability to conduct underground nuclear tests in a short period of time? What preparations does the United States currently make for the resumption of nuclear testing, and what actions may it take next?

Famous teacher: the legal basis for the US government to resume nuclear testing
The moratorium on nuclear testing is nothing new. In 1958, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a moratorium on nuclear testing, but this suspension was suddenly broken by the Soviet Union. In the last three months of 1961, the Soviet Union conducted 57 nuclear tests, including the Tsar bomb, the largest nuclear weapon to date. In 1963, the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain signed a treaty and decided to suspend atmospheric nuclear tests, but underground nuclear tests are still continuing. The nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union lasted until 1991. The then Soviet leader Gorbachev unilaterally announced a moratorium on nuclear testing. The US President Bush immediately announced the moratorium in 1992. test. In 1996, then US President Clinton signed the “Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty”, which further formalized the US government’s decision to suspend nuclear testing.

On the face of it, the Clinton administration is a hero in pushing the United States to suspend nuclear testing and promote nuclear non-proliferation in the world. However, in fact, Clinton had left enough room for the United States to restart nuclear testing when he was elected president in 1993. Less than one year after being elected, Clinton signed the “Presidential Decision-making Directive No. 15” (PDD-15), which stipulates that, if the president gives instructions, the United States must maintain the resumption of nuclear test preparations within “2 to 3 years.” ability. The Clinton administration’s national security and defense agencies have also restarted, reviewed, and updated some safeguards that have been enacted since 1963, and incorporated these measures into PDD-15, stipulating in legal form that the U.S. government must maintain the following five aspects: The preparedness of the country is: conducting underground nuclear testing and inventory management; laboratory maintenance and accumulation of technical resources; maintaining the ability to resume nuclear testing; improving the development of treaty monitoring technology; and monitoring other countries’ nuclear programs by intelligence means.

In addition, although the United States is one of the signatories of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, its Senate has not ratified the treaty since the government signed the treaty in 1996, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty has never come into force under political influence. Therefore, no matter how the geopolitical wind changes, whether it is at the level of domestic law or international law, the United States can still legally conduct a full-scale nuclear test.

The difficulty is not small: the dilemma faced by the US nuclear test preparations
The last nuclear test in the United States took place in 1992, and then its public nuclear field research mainly focused on subcritical tests, chemical explosion tests, and computer simulations. So far, there have been 28 years of no equivalent nuclear tests. Although non-nuclear tests and computer simulations have made great contributions to American nuclear scientific research and played a positive role in cultivating test and diagnostic scientists, to truly resume underground nuclear tests, the United States is currently deploying test facilities, test environment selection, and reserve of technical personnel. There are huge challenges in all aspects.

The first is the question of test facilities. Los Alamos National Laboratory issued a report in May 2020 stating that although there are still 33 spare shafts, the structural stability of these shafts decades ago may be difficult to meet the needs of the test. In addition, the test must Special gas-barrier cables, special cranes for hoisting test frames and sealed containers have been scorched by the sun in the Nevada desert for nearly 30 years, and it is uncertain whether they can be used. Due to the suspension of nuclear tests, the current research on new technologies for underground nuclear tests is still blank, and many test materials used 30 years ago are now out of production and cannot be purchased. Therefore, whether it is investing in the development of new technologies or resuming production, proven but difficult to obtain The statutory period of 2 to 3 years in PDD-15 is a major challenge.

The second is the choice of test environment. Although on the surface, the Nevada National Security Field with dry soil, porous rocks, and deep groundwater is the best choice for nuclear testing, the Las Vegas metropolitan area near the Nevada site has become a city with 2.1 million people. Tourist resorts, except for small-scale (fluid nuclear tests) or non-equivalent tests, the possibility of nuclear tests in southern Nevada is very slim; another test site that can be considered is Amchitka Island, Alaska, but since the last nuclear test in 1992 Since the test, the Department of Energy has made a significant increase in regulations to ensure the safety of workers, the public, and the environment. In addition, the island is currently part of the Alaska National Marine Wildlife Refuge. From a political point of view, any suggestions for nuclear tests to be conducted there All are very likely to die halfway.

Finally, there are technical issues. Functional nuclear testing can be divided into at least 14 professional areas: sealing, security, assembly, storage and transportation, hoisting, backfilling, timing and control, release and ignition, test and diagnosis, test control center activities, post-zero sampling, nuclear design, Weapon engineering, test integration and nuclear chemistry. In the heyday of nuclear testing, the Los Alamos National Laboratory had about 4,000 people, and the Nevada National Security Field had about 7,000 employees. However, as the scope of non-nuclear testing has shrunk, it is currently committed to The geophysicists, physicists, and engineers of nuclear research are just a drop in the past. Even if the United States has trained a group of nuclear test scientists through subcritical tests and even secretly conducting fluid nuclear tests, the complexity of full-scale nuclear tests is far from comparable to that of low-yield nuclear tests. In addition to the difficulty of organization and coordination of the entire system, the existing personnel are almost It is impossible to integrate the complex contents of these 14 majors within 2 to 3 years.