Dispatches from Nagasaki No.4

Nuclear free local authorities in Japan protest a new type of nuclear weapons testing by the U.S.

(December 25, 2012) On September 19, 2012, it was reported that the U.S. had been conducting a new type of nuclear weapons testing. Following this report, nuclear free local authorities in Japan launched a succession of protests.

The tests in question were conducted by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA; a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Energy) at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, one of the U.S. nuclear weapons facilities. These tests differ from sub-critical tests in that no explosive materials or testing sites are used. Instead, extremely high temperatures and pressures approaching those of nuclear explosions are created with the Z Machine, an apparatus capable of generating powerful x-rays. This allows for examinations into the behavior of plutonium, the material used for nuclear weapons.

While it was known that four Z Machine nuclear-weapons tests had been carried out as of November 2011, the statement issued on September 19 revealed that a fifth test had been conducted between April and June 2012. Inquiries from RECNA later confirmed the exact date to be May 17. Then, on September 22, Chugoku Shimbun reported that an additional sixth Z Machine nuclear-weapon test had taken place on August 27. All tests carried out thus far are listed in the attached table.

When news of the fifth test was revealed on September 19, Sumiteru Taniguchi, chairman of Nagasaki Council of the A-Bomb Sufferers, commented that “while President Obama talks of a world free of nuclear weapons, it looks as if (contradictory actions) are taking place behind the scenes. We condemn all kinds of nuclear tests” (Nagasaki Shimbun; September 20, 2012). That same day, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue sent a letter of protest to U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos on behalf of the 287 municipal governments that form the National Council of Japan Nuclear Free Local Authorities. He wrote, “(such actions) run counter to efforts at nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation being made by an international community aspiring toward the elimination of nuclear weapons… We strongly hope that (the U.S) will take a leadership role in efforts to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons and earnestly engage in nuclear disarmament while putting an immediate end to nuclear tests that lead to the continued existence and further development of nuclear weapons.” Speaking out on behalf of the international organization Mayors for Peace that same day, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said, “On behalf of Mayors for Peace, an alliance of 5,400 municipalities from 154 countries and areas, I strongly protest (this action)… Upon learning that yet another test had been carried out, I noted with despondence that the calls of those of us who hope for peace are not being heard, for protests like this are launched after every nuclear weapons test.” Further objections came from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where many citizens, atomic bombing survivors included, have issued a succession of vocal criticisms and taken part in protest activities such as sit-ins.

In addition to National Council of Japan Nuclear Free Local Authorities and Mayors for Peace, RECNA has found that at least thirteen local governments (including Nagasaki City and Hiroshima City) have sent the U.S. government letters signed by the heads of their municipalities in protest of this sixth nuclear weapons test. In addition, protest letter signed by the city councils of Kawasaki City (in Kanagawa Prefecture), Hiroshima City and Nagasaki City have also been sent out.

According to information released by NNSA after the test of November, 2010, this new form of nuclear weapons testing is designed to ensure “that NNSA has the infrastructure, facilities and highly trained scientists and engineers required to maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of a smaller stockpile without nuclear testing”. The Z Machine nuclear weapons tests are not accompanied by detonations and, like sub-critical tests, fall outside the regulations of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, the National Council of Japan Nuclear Free Local Authorities has pointed out in their protest calls that these tests are conducted with a view towards the long-term maintenance and improved capability of nuclear weapons and therefore are incompatible with the Obama administration’s stated goal of “a world free of nuclear weapons”.

The past six Z Machine nuclear weapons tests (with plutonium involved)

1 November 18, 2010 (Sandia National Laboratory)
2 March 31, 2011 (Sandia National Laboratory)
3 September 22, 2011 (Sandia National Laboratory)
4 November 16, 2011 (Sandia National Laboratory)
5 May 17, 2012 (Sandia National Laboratory)
6 August 27, 2012 (Sandia National Laboratory)

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