San Francisco, California
London, United Kingdom
The enduring danger of nuclear testing
We all should care about ending nuclear tests. We often hear that nuclear weapons were only used twice in war: in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. However, between 1945 and 1996, over 2,000 nuclear test explosions were carried out by a handful of countries. That is an average of one approximately every nine days.
Weapons of Mass Destruction
A Japanese report on the bombings characterized Hiroshima and Nagasaki as "the graveyards with not a tombstone standing". The death toll in both cities justifies this statement indeed: the estimated death toll in both cities ranges from 100,000 to 150,000 with a further 100,000 - 2000,000 injured or otherwise affected. Some of the hibakusha (Atomic bomb survivors) continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the bombings to this day.
It has been estimated that the total yield of all atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1980 accounted for 428 megatons (Mt), equivalent to over 29,000 Hiroshima size bombs (The National Resources Defense Council). According to the United Nations Scientific Committee 2000 report on the Effects of Atomic Radiation to the UN General Assembly, radiation exposure can damage living cells, killing some and modifying others, if not repairable, it eventually results in cancer deaths and passes on to hereditary disorders. Nuclear explosions can also have significant negative effects on the environment. For example, vegetation on the surface of the Earth, underground water aquifers, other mineral and marine resources can be contaminated by deposition of fallout or radiation.
Threat to Peace and Security
Nuclear tests were carried out in order to develop new weapons, and to “improve” existing arsenals that were the backbone of the “balance of power” during the Cold War. By banning nuclear tests, it makes it very difficult for countries to develop these weapons for the first time, or for countries who already have them to make more powerful bombs.
What is being done to stop nuclear testing?
Many attempts were made during the Cold War to negotiate a legally binding ban on nuclear testing, but it was only in the 1990s that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) became a reality. It opened for signature in 1996 and bans all nuclear explosions by everyone, for all times, and everywhere: on the Earth's surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground.
As of 6 December 2016, a total of 183 countries have signed the Treaty and 166 have ratified. But 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, the USA, India, North Korea, and Pakistan. The last three of those have yet to sign the CTBT. At the same time, virtually all countries observe a de facto moratorium on nuclear testing and only nine nuclear tests were carried out since 1996: two each by India and Pakistan in 1998 and five by North Korea: in 2006, 2009, 2013, and twice in 2016.
The Treaty has a unique and comprehensive verification regime to ensure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected. This regime consists of a global network of monitoring stations, data analysis, and on-site inspection capabilities.
The 20th anniversary of the Treaty is an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that the Treaty is still not in force, and to reaffirm the urgent need for a legally binding test ban.
This Conversation with Youth on the CTBT is part of this effort. It is an opportunity to take stock of the achievements and highlights of the anniversary year, and to look ahead to what can and should be done to advance the Treaty. The role of youth is of crucial importance in this context and this is one of many opportunities to hear their contributions and ideas.
Future efforts to promote ratification and universalization must include the younger generation of professionals from a variety of fields: from policy makers to scientists to communicators.
The conversation will focus on the following issues:
- disarmament and non-proliferation
- the science behind nuclear test monitoring
- sustainable peace
- how the UN may help
- the role and voice of youth
When & Where
UNODA, in partnership with CTBTO, UNIS and VCDNP
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth's surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. CTBT makes it very difficult for countries to develop nuclear bombs for the first time, or for countries that already have them, to make more powerful bombs. It also prevents the huge damage caused by radioactivity from nuclear explosions to humans, animals and plants.
After many attempts to negotiate a comprehensive test ban, the Treaty became a reality in the 1990s. The CTBT was negotiated in Geneva between 1994 and 1996. 183 countries signed the Treaty, of which 164 also ratified it, including three of the nuclear weapon States: France, the Russian Federation and the UK. But 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the USA. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT.
Since the Treaty is not yet in force, the organization is called the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). It was founded in 1996, has over 260 staff from over 70 countries, and is based in Vienna. It is headed by the Executive Secretary, Lassina Zerbo from Burkina Faso. The CTBTO’s main tasks are the promotion of the Treaty and the build-up of the verification regime so that it is operational when the Treaty enters into force.
United Nations Information Service (UNIS) Vienna is part of a network of United Nations Information Centres spanning the globe, from Accra to Yaoundé, which are part of the Department of Public Information (DPI). UNIS shares a common goal to help fulﬁl the substantive purposes of the United Nations by communicating the activities and concerns of the Organization to the public.
UNIS Vienna plays a dual role: as UN Information Centre it serves as the local voice of the UN in four client countries - Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia and aims to promote an informed understanding of the work and goals of the UN, by reaching out to media, government, academia, schools and civil society organizations. UNIS also provides public information support and promotional services to the substantive programmes of the UN based in Vienna and acts as Secretariat to the United Nations Communications Group in Vienna.
United Nations ODA (UNODA) was established in January 1998 as the Department for Disarmament Affairs which was part of the SG’s programme for reform in accordance with his report to the General Assembly (A/51/950). It was originally established in 1982 upon the recommendation of the General Assembly’s second special session on disarmament (SSOD II). In 1992, its name was changed to Centre for Disarmament Affairs, under the Department of Political Affairs. At the end of 1997, it was renamed Department for Disarmament Affairs and in 2007, it became the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs.
The Office promotes:
Nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation
Strengthening of the disarmament regimes in respect to other weapons of mass destruction, and chemical and biological weapons
Disarmament efforts in the area of conventional weapons, especially landmines and small arms, which are the weapons of choice in contemporary conflicts.
The Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation (VCDNP) is an international non-governmental organization established on the initiative of the Austrian Foreign Ministry in 2010. It is operated by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. The official opening ceremony of the VCDNP was held on 25 February 2011 at the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs of the Republic of Austria.
The VCDNP’s mission is to promote international peace and security by providing a platform for independent analysis and dialogue in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.