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International Institute for Nuclear Explosions
Nuclear explosions have potential practical and scientific uses. It
is superstition to ban them, but making sure they don't contribute to
the possibility of nuclear war is necessary.
May 15,1996 to April 8, 2004
Our idea is that nuclear explosions should be studied and when
appropriate carried out mainly by an international institute according to
the following principles.
- The institute is open to people from all countries.
- No information is kept secret.
- All work is to be done safely.
- Explosions are done when authorized by procedures
established by an internationally representative review board.
- No weapons are to be designed or tested. Weapon design
information is not to be present.
- Non-proliferation of weapons is to be advanced.
- If weapon information is needed for international arms
control purposes, this information should be handled by
a different organization.
- I leave open the question of whether the Institute
should have an initial monopoly on nuclear explosions.
Large scale practical applications, e.g. to energy
generation, probably preclude monopoly.
Up to now, non-proliferation has been promoted by secrecy as well as
by diplomacy. Secrecy is now almost irrelevant to non-proliferation,
because the essential knowledge required for weapons is widespread.
Diplomacy, inspection and perhaps some coercion have to be relied
There is a significant development gap between nuclear explosions and
actual weapons that can be delivered by airplanes or missiles.
What scientific and practical uses of nuclear explosions may develop
is hard to predict. While both the U.S. and the Soviet Union did some
work in this direction, the work was always subordinated to the
development of weapons.
Here are some possibilities.
- Earth moving. The Soviets did some work in this direction, and
the Americans studied it.
- Fracturing rock to get at natural gas and oil. Some
American work was done.
- The Orion rockets propelled by nuclear explosions. This
kind of rocket can only be used away from the earth's
atmosphere. However, it makes possible manned missions to the
outer planets in reasonable times. It didn't get past the
- Nuclear pumped lasers. The American study of this was
dominated by the development of anti-missile weapons which
made the task very difficult. The extremely intense lasers
that nuclear explosions make possible may have interesting
scientific and practical applications.
- Study of the behavior of matter under the conditions of
extreme temperatures and pressures.
- Thermonuclear explosions in underground chambers as a source
of energy for electricity. This will surely work even if
other approaches to thermonuclear energy continue to prove
- Providing for the low probability event of suddenly
needing nuclear explosions for deflecting an asteroid to
prevent it from hitting the earth. A New
Yorker cartoon showed two dinosaurs. One said, ``All I'm
saying is now is the time to develop the technology
to deflect an asteroid.'' As the dinosaur said, now is the
time to develop the technology.
Maybe the establishment of such an institute is politically impossible
at present, because of the great opposition to nuclear explosions for
any purpose. However, as memories of the Cold War with its fears of
nuclear war recede, a new generation (and maybe older generations)
will look at the question more calmly. If this institute is created,
it may take some time for worthwhile experiments to be proposed and
Very likely, there will remain some national programs involving nuclear
It will augur ill for the future of humanity if a branch of science
and its associated technology are abandoned permanently for symbolic
It is unfortunate that the test ban treaty signed in 1996 bans all
nuclear explosions. Fortunately, the U.S. Senate rejected it. I
wouldn't object if it merely banned bomb tests.
The treaty does not make nuclear war less likely. It merely
creates an unstable situation--favoring the kind of society that can
keep secret (or at least uncertain) that it is carrying out secret
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