The International Day Against Nuclear Testing is seemingly an irrelevant event, but its significance is linked to fear of weapons proliferation and concerns about the use of nuclear energy.
For years nuclear tests were carried out in the open air, until today it is not known what the true impact of the radioactive contamination on the planet caused by them is, but even after opting for underground tests, they also negatively affect the soils, transforming them into infertile spaces, in addition to radioactivity that affects groundwater, soils but also the atmosphere.
We know, for example, that some regions of Oceania have been too badly affected by underground nuclear testing and that others were on the verge of environmental disasters, if such testing had continued.
The origin of the date and its purpose
The origin of the date is that on August 29, 1991, one of the largest nuclear test sites in the world was closed: Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, exactly 42 years after they started. This historic shutdown prompted the United Nations General Assembly to institute the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996.
This is a document that has not yet been ratified by many countries, which means that it has not yet entered into force. But, even so, meeting the date constitutes an effort to sensitize humanity, especially politicians, so that progress can be made towards the complete eradication of testing and, therefore, global denuclearization.
Efforts to bring about an end to nuclear testing worldwide can serve as a springboard for discussions and initiatives focused on the total denuclearization of the planet.
The important thing is that, according to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), all states have the right to develop and to be assisted in the development of nuclear energy for civilian purposes.
This is why the United Nations created this day in 2009 with the aim of raising awareness of the effects of nuclear weapons testing and achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.
It is requested that on this date there be greater disclosure of concerns related to nuclear tests, their environmental impact, their effect on soils, among others, so that leaders learn to completely ban these procedures.
The impact of nuclear testing
It all started on July 16, 1945, during World War II, when the United States detonated the world’s first nuclear weapon, dubbed Trinity, in the New Mexico desert.
Less than a month later, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, instantly killing over 100,000 people.
Of the survivors, thousands died from injuries, radiation sickness and, in later years, various types of cancer. The number of deaths from these various problems is estimated at nearly 200,000.
Since then, more than 2,000 nuclear tests have been carried out by at least eight nations on this planet.
The number of nuclear warheads
Nine countries had about 12,700 warheads at the start of 2022, according to the Federation of American Scientists. About 90% come from Russia (5,977 warheads) and the United States (5,428 warheads).
At its peak in 1986, the two rivals between them possessed nearly 65,000 nuclear warheads, making the nuclear arms race one of the most disturbing events of the Cold War.
But while Russia and the United States have dismantled thousands of warheads, other countries, notably China, are said to be increasing their numbers.
The only country to voluntarily abandon nuclear weapons was South Africa, which in 1989 suspended its nuclear weapons program and in 1990 began to dismantle them. In 1991, South Africa acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), thus becoming a non-nuclear country.
Which countries have/carry out tests
According to the Arms Control Association, at least eight countries have conducted a total of 2,056 nuclear tests from 1945 to 2020.
The United States conducted half of all nuclear tests, with 1,030 conducted between 1945 and 1992. In 1954, it detonated its largest nuclear weapon, a 15 megaton bomb, on the surface of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the codename of the Castelo Bravo trial.
The power of the test was miscalculated by scientists and resulted in radioactive contamination which affected the inhabitants of the atolls. The nuclear fallout from the explosion would have spread over an area of 18,130 square kilometers.
The Soviet Union conducted the second highest number of nuclear tests with 715 conducted between 1949 and 1990. The USSR’s first nuclear test took place on August 29, 1949, codenamed RDS-1 and was carried out at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan.
According to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the Soviet Union conducted 456 tests in Semipalatinsk, with devastating consequences for the local population, such as genetic abnormalities and high rates of cancer.
France has carried out 210 nuclear tests, while the United Kingdom and China have each carried out 45 tests. India has carried out three nuclear tests and Pakistan has carried out two.
North Korea is the last country to have carried out nuclear tests. In 2017, his sixth and most powerful bomb was detonated at the Punggye-ri test site. The underground explosion created a 6.3 magnitude earthquake.
The biggest nuclear explosions
The biggest nuclear explosion occurred in 1961, when the Soviet Union detonated the Tsar Bomb at Novaya Zemlya, north of the Arctic Circle. The explosion was 50 megatons, 3,300 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
The second largest nuclear explosion occurred in 1954, when the United States detonated its largest nuclear weapon, a 15 megaton bomb.
The biggest Chinese detonation was in 1976 in Lop Nur, when they detonated a 4 megaton bomb.
The UK carried out a series of nuclear tests in the South Pacific Ocean between November 1957 and September 1958 as part of Operation Grapple. Grapple Y was the largest of the operation’s nuclear tests, with a three-megaton explosion.
In 1968, France conducted a series of nuclear tests codenamed Canopus on Fangataufa Atoll in the South Pacific Ocean. The test was 2.6 megatons and was 200 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.
nuclear test sites
Nuclear weapons have been tested around the world.
On February 13, 1960, France carried out its first nuclear test, called Gerboise Bleue, above the Sahara desert, in Algeria, then French territory.
On September 22, 1979, an American satellite detected an atmospheric nuclear explosion over Prince Edward Island in the Indian Ocean, near Antarctica.
Many believe it was a joint nuclear test carried out by South Africa and Israel, but to this day the origin of this detonation remains a mystery, with theories ranging from the impact of a meteorite in the upper atmosphere to the explosion of an alien spacecraft. .
Other nuclear test sites include various US sites in the states of Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado and Mississippi.
Tests have also been conducted in Australia, China, India, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Russia and Pakistan, as well as in French Polynesia, Kiritimati, the Marshall Islands and, on the high seas, in the East Pacific and South Atlantic.
The impact of testing
Nuclear testing has immediate and long-term effects caused by radiation and radioactive fallout. Rising cancer rates have been linked to nuclear testing, with studies showing that thyroid cancer is linked to radionuclides.
After a nuclear test, large areas of the earth remain radioactive for decades. The health effects of different levels of radiation range from nausea and vomiting to death within days.
It is suspected that the increase in cancer cases worldwide in recent years is the result of nuclear tests carried out between 1945 and 1960, leading scientists to wonder what will happen in the years to come, as the most trials took place after 1960.
As always, human beings think only of the present and never of the consequences of the future. Today we are suffering the result of years of nuclear tests that have been carried out all over the world since 1945 and which, unfortunately, continue to occur.
Today, it serves as an alert to this reality and seeks to create global awareness of the risk of these tests. Let’s hope that humanity opens its eyes and stops destroying its ecosystem because without it we will not survive on this planet.
What do you think of these tests? Are these “days” really useful for anything or are they just dates “to see in English”? We want to know your opinion, do not hesitate to comment and if you liked the article, share and give a “like / like”.
August 19: World Humanitarian Day
Picture: © CTBTO