Over 2,000 nuclear explosive tests have taken place around the world over the last 70 years, about a quarter of which were tested in the atmosphere. The United States conducted about 1,000 of those nuclear explosive tests, with around 100 conducted in the atmosphere. These atmospheric or above-ground tests, the purpose of which was to further improve the effectiveness, safety and security of our nuclear deterrent, had the consequence of distributing radioactive fallout downwind from the site.
Over time, radioactive and cancer-causing particles, such as Strontium-90, found their way into milk and other products, eventually ending up in the bones of children. Beyond the multiple radioactive “hotspots” in Utah, which was downwind of the main testing site in Nevada, hotspots were detected throughout the West and as far away as the East Coast.
…In this century, only one country on Earth – North Korea – has conducted nuclear explosive testing…
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a legally binding global ban on nuclear explosions of any kind, anywhere. It was opened for signature in September 1996 and President Bill Clinton was the first world leader to sign the Treaty, though the United States has yet to ratify the Treaty. Today, 183 nations have signed the Treaty and 164 have ratified it.
Despite the strong merits of the Treaty, it remains, as President Kennedy said 52 years ago, “so near and yet so far.” Since CTBT is not exactly a trending topic on Twitter, we are working to educate the public and Congress to build support for U.S. ratification.
We also need to connect the CTBT to the human reality of the dangers of explosive nuclear testing. I have seen this first-hand. My travels have taken me to the Marshall Islands to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the U.S. “Castle Bravo” hydrogen bomb test detonated on Bikini Atoll. The test was more powerful than expected and radioactive fallout contaminated nearby islands. I met with people whose family members died or suffered health problems, as a result of this test. They explained to me how entire communities were displaced from their homes and have yet to return, even today.
I have visited Utah several times and will go back again next week. The location of Utah, downwind of the former U.S. test site, has led to long-term damage to people, land and livestock. I met farmers who talked about their family’s entire flock of sheep dying in the night, only to have family members develop cancers in the following years. I’ve seen the same thing in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, where the Soviet Union conducted their nuclear explosive tests. I have also visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki and heard from atomic bomb survivors. Their stories are a critically important reminder that all nations should avoid the horrors of nuclear war.