Silencing the Bomb

One Scientist's Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing

Lynn R. Sykes

Columbia University Press

Silencing the Bomb

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Pub Date: December 2017

ISBN: 9780231182485

304 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£27.95

Pub Date: December 2017

ISBN: 9780231544191

304 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£27.95

Silencing the Bomb

One Scientist's Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing

Lynn R. Sykes

Columbia University Press

In December 2016, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved their iconic “Doomsday Clock” thirty seconds forward to two and a half minutes to midnight, the latest it has been set since 1952, the year of the first United States hydrogen bomb test. But a group of scientists—geologists, engineers, and physicists—has been fighting to turn back the clock. Since the dawn of the Cold War, they have advocated a halt to nuclear testing, their work culminating in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which still awaits ratification from China, Iran, North Korea—and the United States. The backbone of the treaty is every nation’s ability to independently monitor the nuclear activity of the others. The noted seismologist Lynn R. Sykes, one of the central figures in the development of the science and technology used in monitoring, has dedicated his career to halting nuclear testing. In Silencing the Bomb, he tells the inside story behind scientists’ quest for disarmament.

Called upon time and again to testify before Congress and to inform the public, Sykes and his colleagues were, for much of the Cold War, among the only people on earth able to say with certainty when and where a bomb was tested and how large it was. Methods of measuring earthquakes, researchers realized, could also detect underground nuclear explosions. When politicians on both sides of the Iron Curtain attempted to sidestep disarmament or test ban treaties, Sykes was able to deploy the nascent science of plate tectonics to reveal the truth. Seismologists’ discoveries helped bring about treaties limiting nuclear testing, but it was their activism that played a key role in the effort for peace. Full of intrigue, international politics, and hard science used for the global good, Silencing the Bomb is a timely and necessary chronicle of one scientist’s efforts to keep the clock from striking midnight.
Lynn R. Sykes has a long record of using seismology to study the important question of how to differentiate nuclear explosions from earthquakes. That experience makes him uniquely qualified to present this cautionary tale about the sclerotic process by which well-founded scientific insight filters its way into the politically loaded formulation of national policy—particularly defense policy. Daniel Davis, Stony Brook University
When he signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, President Bill Clinton called it ‘the longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in arms control history.’ Lynn R. Sykes was one of the leading scientists in that half-century-long battle. Although testing has stopped—except in North Korea—Republican opposition has blocked ratification of this treaty in the U.S. Senate. Sykes’ lucid inside accounts of the science underlying the detection of nuclear testing and the battles over the test ban’s verifiability are therefore not just of historical interest but also relevant to contemporary concerns. Frank von Hippel, cofounder, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. A Hurried Trip to Moscow in 1974 to Negotiate the Threshold Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
2. Development and Testing of Nuclear Weapons
3. From the Early Negotiations to Halt Nuclear Testing to the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963
4. Attempts to Hide Nuclear Tests: The Big-Hole Evasion Scheme
5. U.S. Overestimation of Sizes of Soviet Underground Explosions: 1961–1974
6. New Methods to Identify Underground Tests: 1963–1973
7. Congressional Hearings on a Comprehensive Test Ban
8. Peaceful Nuclear Explosions
9. Heated Controversies Over Yields of Soviet Tests and an Unsuccessful Attempt at a CTBT
10. Continued Debate About Yields, Accusations of Soviet Cheating on the Threshold Treaty, and Its Entry Into Force
11. Renewed Interest in a CTBT, the OTA Report, and the Group of Scientific Experts: 1979–1996
12. Dealing with “Problem” or “Anomalous” Events in the USSR and Russian Republic: 1972–2009
13. Negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban: Global Monitoring, 1993–2016
14. Monitoring Nuclear Tests Sites and Countries of Special Concern to the United States
15. Senate Rejection of the CTBT in 1999
16. The CTBT Task Force and the 2002 and 2012 Reports of the National Academies
17. Strategic Nuclear Weapons: Soviet and U.S. Parity
18. Nuclear War, False Alarms, Accidents, Arms Control, and Ways Forward
Glossary and Abbreviations
References
Index

About the Author

Lynn R. Sykes is Higgins Professor Emeritus of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He is renowned for his contributions to the science of seismology, especially plate tectonic theory. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.