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US conducts subcritical nuclear test in Nevada

Posted May. 20, 2024 07:52,   

Updated May. 20, 2024 07:52


The U.S. conducted a subcritical nuclear test, which didn’t result in a nuclear explosion, for the first time since September 2021, two years and eight months ago, amidst the escalating nuclear race among the U.S., China, and Russia.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), under the U.S. Department of Energy, announced that it successfully conducted a 'subcritical' nuclear test last Tuesday at the Principal Underground Laboratory for Subcritical Experimentation (PULSE) facility in Nevada. A subcritical nuclear test is a test to see if nuclear material can be compressed to a certain level by detonating it with explosives. However, it does not reach the critical point that triggers a chain nuclear reaction, so a nuclear explosion does not occur.

The United States has not conducted an actual nuclear explosion test since 1992. However, the Obama administration conducted four subcritical nuclear tests, the Trump administration conducted three, and the Biden administration has also conducted three subcritical nuclear tests, including this one.

The test was a 'tit-for-tat' response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent order to practice the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. Russia has been increasingly escalating its nuclear threats as its conflict with the United States intensifies following its invasion of Ukraine. Last year, it suspended its participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States and withdrew its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In response, the Biden administration announced last year that it would develop a new tactical nuclear weapon, the B61-13 nuclear gravity bomb. The U.S. Congress has also approved a series of nuclear weapons modernization budgets, including funding for the development of a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile (SLCM) and a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) called the Sentinel.

In an op-ed for Foreign Policy (FP), Rose Gottemoeller, former Deputy Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), writes, “The fabric of nuclear deterrence is changing, its mind game adjusting to a new era of nuclear brinkmanship. By working together with allies, the United States can drive nuclear statecraft forward in ways that strengthen deterrence.”

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