Trident Britain and the United States Conduct Joint Sub-Critical Nuclear Test

* Trident Britain and the United States Conduct Joint Sub-Critical Nuclear Test

Britain and the United States have undertaken a joint effort to design a replacement warhead for the Trident Ballistic Missile System. The Trident submarine, which carries eight nuclear warheads, was built through a similar collaboration during the Cold War. The Trident was first deployed in 1979 and is carried by fourteen active US Ohio class submarines and four UK Vanguard class submarines. The two countries recently performed a sub-critical nuclear experiment, codenamed Operation Krakatoa, at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), to aid these efforts.

Sub-critical nuclear tests use chemicals and high explosives to generate high pressures and simulate a nuclear detonation. They are intended to show whether nuclear components, such as plutonium and uranium, will develop problems as they age. These experiments are called sub-critical because they are not expected to reach critical mass, which would initiate a full nuclear explosion. The Department of Energy believes "that sub-critical nuclear tests are not news worthy, so prior notification of nuclear tests is not necessary" for the surrounding communities.

The Nevada Test Site is located on ancestral Western Shoshone lands, 65 miles north of Las Vegas. In a decision made by the United Nations after the Krakatoa test, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found the United States in violation of human rights for performing this type of experiment, and urged it to desist from all such activities. However it appears that these experiments are an integral part of the United States future nuclear weapons policy.

Britain and the United States are attempting to build a new generation of weapons through their respective Reliable Replacement Warhead Programs (RRW). The RRW program is intended to manufacture a flexible production line of nuclear weapons. They hope to stay within the rigors of international treaties, such as the Non Proliferation treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (CTBT). They argue that by modifying the components and designs of existing nuclear weapons rather than developing new designs from scratch, they will be in compliance with both treaties.

The NPT prohibits new nuclear weapons. However, proponents of the RRW program assert that these designs will only be modifications. Despite the fact that the CTBT prohibits "any nuclear weapons test explosion," the United States and Britain hope to stay within the rigors of this treaty by certifying the new weapons through sub-critical experiments, rather than full scale nuclear testing. Critics believe that the RRW program violates the spirit of both treaties.

In a related story, Montana Senator Conrad Burns and Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Larry Craig recently introduced an amendment to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). The Act, passed in 1990, provides compensation to individuals showing medical evidence of harm from nuclear testing fallout done in the 1950s and 1960s at the Nevada Test Site. At present, only effected individuals in portions of Utah, Nevada and Arizona are eligible for compensation, although studies show that certain Idaho counties received some of the highest doses of fallout from the Nevada tests. The amendment, if passed, would expand coverage to include all of Montana and Idaho.

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