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US will conduct six hydronuclear underground tests

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 24, 1995) The United States announced on October 27, 1995, that it will conduct six underground tests involving nuclear materials at its Nevada nuclear test site in 1996 and 1997. The first test, "Rebound" is scheduled for June 18, 1996, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE). DOE argues that the tests are necessary to keep ageing nuclear weapons safe and to ensure the Nevada Test Site is ready to return to full underground tests at any time.

(443.4383) WISE-Amsterdam - The DOE Oct. 27, press release and fact sheet claims that "the subcritical high-explosive experiments with nuclear materials be conducted .... to support President Clinton's commitment to a "zero yield" nuclear test ban ..." A Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is under negotiations in Geneva and was likely to be finalized early next year. On August 11, Clinton announced his support of a 'zero yield' CTBT.

The tests will most likely be so-called "hydronuclear" tests, involving explosions of high explosive and nuclear materials such as plutonium. Such tests are claimed to have no nuclear yield, as no nuclear chain reaction is initiated, but in fact can produce a small fission yield; they are called "zero yield" only if their nuclear yield does not exceed their high explosive yield. And such tests are allowed under a zero yield CTBT.

Needed is a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that closes nuclear test sites forever, not leaving a trail of loopholes for the nuclear weapon states to continue to proliferate new nuclear weapons indefinitely. A test ban treaty that allows hydronuclear tests will not effectively stop nuclear proliferation and will permit the existing nuclear weapon states to maintain and build their nuclear arsenals. The behaviour of the US, France and China on the testing issue has betrayed the trust of non-nuclear nations and undermined the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Stephanie Mills Greenpeace New Zealand reacted furious: "The US announcement could be a death knell for the test ban talks reaching conclusion early next year. This test will do more than rebound, it will be a disaster for international hopes for a comprehensive test ban treaty."

Hydronuclear tests could prove attractive to states wanting to develop secret nuclear weapons programs, according to nuclear scientists, because they could provide confidence in otherwise untested weapons.

At the same time Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary announced the award of a US$1.5 billion, five year (starting on January 1, 1996), performance-based contract to the Bechtel Nevada Corporation for the management and operation of the Nevada Test Site.


  • US Department of Energy, Press release
  • DOE Facts 'Subcritical experiments at the Nevada Test Site' 27 Oct. 1995
  • Greenpeace Press release, 2 November 1995

Contact: Stephanie Mills or Michael Szabo at Greenpeace New Zealand: Private bag 92507, Wellesley Street, Auckland New Zealand.
Tel: +64-9-3776 128; Fax: +64-9-303 2676.