Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Arms Control Today, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


DOCUMENT

Casting doubt on arguments offered by critics of the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons testing, on July 31 the National Academy of Sciences issued Technical Issues Related

to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The report challenged several concerns expressed by treaty opponents over monitoring global testing and asserted that effective U.S. stockpile stewardship does not require further tests.

The panel of experts that wrote the report, including three former directors of the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories, found that the U.S. nuclear stockpile can be safely and reliably maintained without explosive testing. Although strict surveillance of weapons components and retention of high-quality scientists is imperative for the upkeep of U.S. nuclear weapons, "[N]o need was ever identified for a program that would periodically subject stockpile weapons to nuclear tests," the panel concluded.

In addition, the report said that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty's (CTBT) verification mechanisms-the International Monitoring System, national technical means, and publicly avail

able geophysical data-would have a "high probability" of detecting tests of 1 kiloton or greater in all environments. Finally, the panel determined that countries with little nuclear weapons development experience would not be able to test below this threshold in a way that would advance their know-how; states with extensive nuclear experience might be capable of concealing low-yield tests, but for them the returns on such testing would be minimal.

Formed in mid-2000, the panel was asked by General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then-special adviser to the president and secretary of state for the CTBT, to evaluate key issues raised during the ratification debate in the U.S. Senate in 1999. The Senate failed to approve the treaty at that time, and the Bush administration maintains that it will not seek reconsideration.

Following is the executive summary of the report. The full text of the report is available from the National Academy Press at www.nap.edu.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This committee's charge was to review the state of knowledge about the three main technical concerns raised during the Senate debate of October 1999 on advice and consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), namely:

(1) the capacity of the United States to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its nuclear stockpile-and in its nuclear-weapon design and evaluation capability-in the absence of nuclear testing;

(2) the capabilities of the international nuclear-test monitoring system (with and without augmentation by national technical means and by instrumentation in use for scientific purposes, and taking into account the possibilities for decoupling nuclear explosions from surrounding geologic media); and

(3) the additions to their nuclear-weapon capabilities that other countries could achieve through nuclear testing at yield levels that might escape detection-as well as the additions they could achieve without nuclear testing at all-and the potential effect of such additions on the security of the United States.

This unclassified Executive Summary provides a synopsis of findings presented at greater length in the unclassified report that follows. Additional detail and analysis are provided in a classified annex.

Confidence in the Nuclear-Weapon Stockpile And in Related Capabilities

We judge that the United States has the technical capabilities to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its existing nuclear-weapon stockpile under the CTBT, provided that adequate resources are made available to the Department of Energy's (DOE) nuclear-weapon complex and are properly focused on this task. The measures that are most important to maintaining and bolstering stockpile confidence are (a) maintaining and bolstering a highly motivated and competent work force in the nuclear-weapon laboratories and production complex, (b) intensifying stockpile surveillance, (c) enhancing manufacturing/remanufacturing capabilities, (d) increasing the performance margins of nuclear-weapon primaries, (e) sustaining the capacity for development and manufacture of the non-nuclear components of nuclear weapons, and (f) practicing "change discipline" in the maintenance and remanufacture of the nuclear subsystem. …

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