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Nuclear Test Ban Treaties

By the threat of increasing data on radioactive fallout  as a result of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, the inititative was made to ban further tests in three common used areas: underwater, on the ground’s surface and in the atmosphere. As showed in the following chart, atmospheric nuclear weapon tests almost doubled the concentration of carbon-14 in the Northern Hemisphere:

300px-Radiocarbon_bomb_spike.svg[source: Homepage University Utrecht]

In addition to C-14 there is another nuclear isotope whose levels in the atmosphere increased in the nuclear age: Strontium-90 as it is written by counterpuch.org :

Scientists and citizens from St. Louis formed a committee to measure and provide information to the public about risks of nuclear war and bomb test fallout. They measured Strontium-90 (one of over 100 radioactive chemicals in fallout) in 320,000 baby teeth, finding that levels increased about 50 times, or 5000%, between 1950 and 1963.

Strontium-90 was widely spread out in the 1950s and 1960s in fallout from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. It has been slowly decaying since then so that current levels from these tests are very low. Since Sr-90 is widely dispersed in the environment and the food chain, everyone is exposed to small levels of it. And because it is chemically similar to calcium, it tends to deposit in bone and medulla (bone marrow). So Sr-90 is linked to cancer and leukemia. For extended information about Sr-90 check out the basics of the U.S. enviromental protection agency EPA site on Sr-90.

On 7 October 1963 President Kennedy signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which he commented with the words:

“The number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard, and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby, who may be born long after we are gone, should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent.” [source:nuclear-news.net]

Since the ban on surface nuclear testing the levels of carbon-14 are diminishing. But the nuclear power states continued testing atomic devices underground which is excluded from the treaty. And since the radioactive waste of nuclear plants generate radiation as well (especially in case of reactor accidents as it is the case of Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011)), the menace of radiation is still lurking.

A further step to ban the threat of increasing nuclear radiation is the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The multilateral treaty by which states agree to ban all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military and civilian purposes (Wikipedia, 18.12.13).

The treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996 and was signed by 183 nation states. But there is one big issue on it: only 161 states have yet ratified it ( so it will not come into effect).

The governments that have not yet ratified it are among others: China, Iran, Israel and the United States. States that have not even signed it yet are as well among others: India, Pakistan and North Korea (which confirmed a third atomic test this year).

The problem lies in the center of international relations treaties: Except for imposing economic and political sanctions there is no way to exercice any authority over a government which tends not to collaberate with international policy. If a nation with nuclear weaponry is not willing to ratify a treaty as the CTBT it will be mainly because exactly this nation HAS nuclear capacity and sees therefore no use behind limiting the options on that issue. Especially when other nuclear nations don’t do it either.