Why are nuclear tests carried out

Glossary Terms

In this US program, the atomic laboratories are equipped with gigantic aboveground weapons research facilities and extremely fast supercomputers in order to improve computer simulation. Computer simulation supplements the various experiments, such as subcritical and hydrodynamic tests. These enable partial aspects and physical fundamentals to be tried out. The missing information can be calculated by computer simulation. Such programs are not only based on purely theoretical principles, but they also make use of a large number of measurement data obtained in experiments and in earlier nuclear tests. Over the decades, the simulation programs have been perfected in all nuclear weapon states. Together with hydrodynamic tests and experiments with individual components, they play an important role, also in the development of new warheads.

Table: subcritical nuclear tests

CountrydateSurnameProving Ground
United States02.07.1997reboundLos Alamos
United States18.09.1997HologLivermore
United States25.03.1998StagecoachLos Alamos
SOOT14.09.1998Novaya Zemlya
United States26.09.1998BagpipeLivermore
United States11.12.1998CimarronLos Alamos
SOOT08.12.1998Novaya Zemlya
SOOT09.12.1998Novaya Zemlya
SOOT13.12.1998Novaya Zemlya
United States09.02.1999ClarinetLivermore
United States30.09.1999Oboe 1Livermore
United States09.11.1999Oboe 2Livermore
SOOTWinter 19997 testsNovaya Zemlya
United States03.02.2000Oboe 3Livermore
United States22.02.2000ThoroughbredLyner
United States06.04.2000Oboe 4Livermore
United States18.08.2000Oboe 5Livermore
SOOT28.08.2000Novaya Zemlya
SOOT31.08.2000Novaya Zemlya
SOOT03.09.2000Novaya Zemlya
SOOT09.-13.12.20002 testsNovaya Zemlya
United States14.12.2000Oboe 6Livermore
United States26.09.2001Oboe 8Livermore
United States13.12.2001Oboe 7Livermore
USA / GB14.02.2002VitoLos Alamos
United States07.06.2002Oboe 9Livermore
United States29.08.2002MarioLos Alamos
United States26.09.2002RoccoLos Alamos
United States19.09.2003pianoLos Alamos
United States25.05.2004ArmandoLos Alamos
USA / GB23.02.2006KrakatauNevada
United States30.08.2006UnicornNevada
United States15.09.2010BacchusNevada
United States01.12.2010Barolo ANevada
United States02.02.2011Barolo BNevada
United States05.12.2012PolluxNevada

Sources: Nevada Desert Experience, Arms Control Association, Bellona, ​​Wm. Robert Johnson

27 subcritical tests have been conducted under the United States' Stockpile Stewardship Program since 1998. A subcritical test detonates 50 to 500 pounds of chemical explosives with small amounts of weapons grade plutonium at a depth of about 300 meters. The experiment uses less than that used for an atomic chain reaction necessary critical mass - therefore "subcritical" - and researches the behavior of plutonium. The data obtained are intended for computer simulation and can be used for weapon development. The US Department of Energy has not ruled out future experiments with "nuclear weapon configuration".

Russia has also reported subcritical tests. Other countries are likely to have similar tests as well.

Status: December 2012