The United States conducted the world's first nuclear explosive test, codenamed "Trinity," 67 years ago this month in the southern New Mexico desert. The atomic age was born.
The former Soviet Union conducted a test of its own nuclear device four years later, sparking an arms race that saw more than 2,000 nuclear explosive tests in the decades to follow.
The Trinity Test had an explosive yield of 10 kilotons (releasing an energy equivalent of 10,000 metric tons of dynamite). The test was literally an earthshaking feat in the fields of science and technology, but also a sobering moment for those involved. It ushered in nearly two decades of further atmospheric testing of nuclear devices.
"[It was] an awesome and foul display," Harvard Physicist and Trinity Test Director Kenneth Bainbridge said.
In the years since 1945, thinking about nuclear testing has evolved -- so much so that the United States has not tested a nuclear weapon for nearly 20 years.
Concerns about the effects of atmospheric testing grew in this country and elsewhere during the early years of the atomic age. Earlier this year, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy's historic speech at American University, where he called for the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) to ban nuclear explosive testing in the atmosphere, outer space and under water. The long series of U.S. and Soviet atmospheric tests, initiated with Trinity, ended with the LTBT's entry-into-force in 1963.
As an outgrowth of the LTBT, the United States and the former Soviet Union signed and later ratified the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT). It entered into force in December 11, 1990. The Treaty caps the nuclear yield of underground nuclear test explosions at 150 Kilotons (or 150,000 metric tons of dynamite).
The TTBT was a critical mutual step to ease tensions between the Cold War rivals. Just as importantly, it is also the first bilateral arms control treaty under which the United States and Soviet Union exchanged information to aid in the verification of treaty requirements on nuclear testing.
The United States has observed a self-imposed moratorium on all testing of its nuclear weapons that would involve a nuclear explosion since 1992, moreover, the United States also is committed to the ratification and swift entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). As President Obama said during the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March 2012, "my administration will continue to pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty." The CTBT would create a legally binding prohibition on nuclear explosive tests for all its parties. The advancement of the U.S. stockpile stewardship program during the past eighteen years has given scientists the tools for the United States to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent in the absence of testing. Monitoring for nuclear explosions also has improved. Over 80 percent of the International Monitoring System stations (IMS) are now online. Combined with other verification tools, they make it extremely difficult for states to conduct explosive nuclear tests that escape detection.
At the June 2012 P5 Conference in Washington D.C., China, France, Great Britain and Russia joined the United States in stating that there are "no substitutes for legally binding obligations under the CTBT." As the United States and its partners no longer conduct explosive testing, many Cold War era sites such as the Nevada Test Site have been transformed to reflect the national security challenges of today. From 1951 to 1992, U.S. atmospheric and underground tests were primarily conducted at the Nevada Test Site just outside of Las Vegas. In 2010, the Nevada Test Site was renamed the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), to reflect the site' expanded mission and the fact that the United States abides by its nuclear explosive testing moratorium issued in 1992.
The United States recently briefed the other P5 States -- China, France, Great Britain and Russia -- on the new diverse functions at the Nevada site, including testing of equipment for nonproliferation and arms control uses. This is just one example of how we have moved beyond outdated Cold War thinking in pursuit of a world less reliant on nuclear explosive testing and nuclear weapons. All of the P5 nuclear states continue to observe their respective moratoria on nuclear testing; their work and cooperation will accelerate CTBT's entry into force.
For the United States, pursuing entry into force of the CTBT and a broader agenda of nuclear disarmament is not about just about policy. In Seoul, President Obama called the pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons a "moral obligation." He said it as the President and as the Commander-in-Chief, but then personalized the statement further, "Most of all, I say it as a father, who wants my two young daughters to grow up in a world where everything they know and love can't be instantly wiped out."