Remembering Trinity, the world’s first nuclear test

Seventy-five years ago – on 16 July, 1945 – the world’s first nuclear explosion seared the desert of New Mexico.

The plutonium-based, implosion-type device left a crater more than 300 metres wide and prompted one of its creators, Robert Oppenheimer, to quote Hindu scripture: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

The U.S. ‘Trinity’ test, carried out at the Alamogordo Test Range, opened the way to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki less than a month later. It was the first of over 2,000 nuclear test explosions to be conducted globally over the following half-century. More than 60 locations worldwide have been used as test sites for nuclear explosions, often leaving a bleak legacy of ill-health and environmental damage for those directly affected – especially where tests failed to go as planned or the scale of their impact was not foreseen.

Vast amounts of radioactive contamination from nuclear testing have spread around the globe, altering the very nature of our environment. Traces of the radioactive isotope carbon-14 created by nuclear bomb tests can be used in carbon dating, and have been found in sea creatures in the very deepest part of the ocean.

One of the few colour photographs of the "Trinity" explosion.

Each nuclear test resulted in unrestrained release into the environment of substantial quantities of radioactive materials, which were widely dispersed in the atmosphere and deposited everywhere on the Earth’s surface.

The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) notes that nuclear testing in the atmosphere, which ran from 1945 to 1980, has been the most significant cause of human exposure to man-made environmental sources of radiation. This painful legacy is testimony to the vital importance of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the global moratorium on nuclear testing that it underpins. Yet until eight more specific countries ratify the Treaty, it cannot become legally binding. The only way to secure all of the CTBT’s benefits for all time, and protect the Earth from nuclear testing, is to bring the Treaty into force.
It is high time to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force. Let us take the last steps of this long journey and finish one of the longest sought international instruments in the area of non-proliferation and disarmament. We owe it to ourselves, and to future generations.