Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Simulated Nuclear Weapon Tests

Computer technology has been so developed that it is indispensable to our lives. One of the features that often benefits humanity is the simulations. By means of simulations with existing data, we can estimate a possible outcome, for instance damage from an earthquake, and prepare for the outcome when it actually occurs. Today, however, the US government is spending money to improve computer simulation technology in order to conduct a most controversial experiment, a nuclear-weapon test.
By using a supercomputer, a nuclear weapon test can be done without exploding a bomb. Thus, it can be said that it is better than previous tests which required nuclear explosions, in terms of safety, security, and the environment. Moreover, because the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) forbids all detonations of nuclear test weapons in all environments, the simulations are one of the ways to operate a nuclear test in accordance with the treaty.1

Although reliability and accuracy problems have hindered progress, researchers at Purdue University and high-performance computing experts at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said that they have solved some problems lowering accuracy levels of the simulations. The NNSA is the quasi-independent agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that oversees the nation’s nuclear security activities. Now, the simulations are able to show a nuclear weapon’s performance in molecular-scale levels over milliseconds, or thousandths of a second. The researchers said that this technology could be also used for other highly complex studies such as climate modeling and exploring changes in a protein’s shape.2
I think that developing such technology for a nuclear weapon test is not in accord with the purpose of the treaty. A UN Resolution on the CTBT, adopted by the General Assembly in 2011, reemphasizes that “the cessation of nuclear-weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions constitutes an effective nuclear disarmament and non proliferation measure, and this is a meaningful step in the realization of a systematic process to achieve nuclear disarmament.”3 According to the Resolution, the purpose of the CTBT is not simply to ban nuclear weapon test explosions; it is also, more importantly, to achieve nuclear disarmament.
I believe that a nuclear weapon test using computers does not help to fulfill the latter purpose of the CTBT. Rather, it would make nuclear disarmament more difficult or even accelerate nuclear proliferation for two reasons. First, using such high technology can create unfairness between states with the technology and states without, which gives the states without such technology a reason not to sign the CTBT, for example North Korea, India and Pakistan.4 Second, conducting a nuclear weapon test can make other states feel insecure and suspicious of global cooperation aiming at nuclear disarmament, resulting in more demand for nuclear weapons.
High technology should be used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the sake of strengthening one county’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

2 Venere-Purdue, Emil, “100,000 Machines to Test Nuclear Weapons”, Futurity.org. 5 June 2012.
3 UN General Assembly Resolution (A/60/418). 13 December 2011.
4 “Status of Signature and Ratification” CTBTO

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