Paul Richards argues nuclear weapons can be controlled

Seismologist Paul Richards says that scientists can now detect any nuclear test of military significance, no matter how secret.

Paul Richards: Can we control nuclear weapon technology or not? It’s in the hands now of a very limited number of countries. If it gets out into 20, 40, 50, or 100 countries, I would think that these weapons will eventually be used.

That’s seismologist Paul Richards. He’s speaking of the over 8,000 live nuclear weapons in the world today.

Paul Richards: The science is ready to support a major arms control objective, the putting into effect of a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It’s ready to go.

President Obama in the U.S. has pledged support for a treaty that bans any nuclear explosion, even for military testing. The treaty has been criticized because nuclear test blasts might be concealed.

Richards disagrees, and told EarthSky that scientists can now detect any nuclear test of military significance, no matter how secret.

Paul Richards: A nuclear explosion, whether it’s in the atmosphere or in space, or underwater, or underground, puts out strong signals. And over the decades that we’re been monitoring, there have been more than 2,000 of these things.

The new monitoring technologies include infrasound to measure atmospheric explosions, and hydroacoustics to monitor the oceans, among others.

Decades of experience, said Richards, have given scientists the knowledge to tell apart a nuclear blast from a force of nature such as an earthquake.

Richards talked about a network of sensors that can detect nuclear test explosions used to develop weapons.

Paul Richards: We’re talking about infrasound to measure the sound of explosions in the atmosphere. We’re talking about hydroacoustics, a network to monitor for the possible occurrence of explosions in the oceans around the world. A global network to pick up the characteristic radionuclides. And then networks of seismometers.

Our thanks to:
Paul G. Richards
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Columbia University
New York, NY

Jorge Salazar