Sixty-five years ago today, 210 miles south of Lost Alamos, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, Lieutenant General Leslie Groves and others gathered in the remote corner of the Alamagordo Desert to detonate a simple plutonium implosion device, nicknamed "The Gadget."
At exactly 5:30 AM on Monday, July 16, 1945, the first nuclear weapons test explosion was conducted.
According to participants of the Manhattan Project, the initial euphoria and relief that the bomb worked gave way to worry, dread, and regret. Test director Kenneth Bainbridge called the sight was a "foul and awesome display."
"We waited until the blast had passed, walked out of the shelter and then it was extremely solemn. We knew the world would not be the same," recalled Oppenheimer moments after the explosion.
Since the Trinity test, thousands of nuclear tests explosions drove the global nuclear arms race that produced tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and, so far, 9 nuclear-armed states.
"We now know more about our stockpile than ever before."
Since the end of the Cold War and the last U.S. nuclear test blast in September 1992, the United States has developed the technological know-how to maintain a shrinking nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing.
Lingering concerns that the United States does not have a plan and enough resources to maintain and modernize its nuclear forces or that we may need to resume nuclear testing are based on myth, not reality.
Nuclear explosive testing has never been relied upon to check the reliability of proven U.S. nuclear warhead designs and is not needed to do so in the future.
Confidence in the ability to maintain U.S. warheads is increasing through advances in computer modeling, new experimental facilities, and studies that show that weapons plutonium is not affected by aging for 85 years or more.
The JASON group of independent technical advisors concluded in its major study last year that, ""Lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs to date."
Since 1994, each warhead type in the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal has been determined to be safe and reliable through a rigorous certification process. Life Extension Programs have refurbished and modernized major warhead types.
In testimony delivered before the Senate Armed Services Committee July 15, Michael Anastasio, current Los Alamos National Laboratory director remarked that "We know more about our stockpile than ever before."
George Miller told the committee in his prepared remarks: "As demonstrated by the program's achievements to date, I believe that the highly capable scientists and engineers at the NNSA national laboratories and production facilities will be able to address issues that arise in an aging, smaller nuclear stockpile by utilizing and further advancing our exceptional computational and experimental tools and employing the full range of life-extension program (LEP) options."
With its fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget request of $7 billion for National Nuclear Security Administration weapons activities, the Obama administration is clearly committed to making sure the lab directors have more than enough resources maintain the remaining U.S. nuclear stockpile
The administration has also outlined in its so-called Section 1251 report to Congress a long-term plan to spend an $80 billion on NNSA nuclear weapons activities over the next ten years.
Time for the Test Ban Treaty
It is clearly in the U.S. national security interests to ban an activity that is no longer necessary to maintain the U.S. arsenal but which could allow other states to perfect new and more sophisticated types of nuclear weapons. U.S. ratification is necessary for entry into force, which would improve global test ban monitoring and allow for short-notice, on site inspection to help detect and deter testing by others.
The only countries that would benefit from renewed testing are second generation nuclear states. As Dr. Siegfried Hecker, former Los Alamos National Laboratory director said in 2009 in Congressional Quarterly, "The single most important reason to ratify the CTBT is to stop other countries from improving their arsenals - China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran if it ever progresses that far... we gain substantially more from limiting other countries than we lose by giving up testing... The U.S. has carried out more than 1,000 nuclear tests, and the Chinese have done about 45. You can see the difference in the sophistication of our arsenals."
A short Nuclear Testing Index from the past 65 years:
2,052: Total Worldwide Nuclear Weapon Test Explosions
1,030: Total U.S. Test Explosions
2,046: Number of test explosions before the CTBT was opened for signature
6: Number of tests explosions conducted since the CTBT was opened for signature
2: Number of nuclear test explosions conducted in Mississippi
2: Number of nuclear test explosions conducted in North Korea
2: Number of nuclear test explosions conducted in Pakistan
9: Number of Annex II States yet to ratify for the CTBT to enter into force.
For more on maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile without nuclear explosive testing, see:
And for more on the history of nuclear testing, see: