Late last week the Trump administration raised eyebrows among the American public and around the world when it was revealed it is actually considering conducting a nuclear test for the first time in 28 years, ultimately as a 'message' to Russia and China. It was discussed two weeks ago (May 15) at a “deputies meeting” of senior national security officials at the White House.
Though apparently shelved for the time being a senior official told The Washington Post the idea of a US test is “very much an ongoing conversation.” But assuming the administration is actually ready to pull the trigger on such a test, how long would it take to get to the point of conducting the nuclear blast from the time the order is given?
A Pentagon official told Defense Daily this week that it would take only a matter of months to ready a nuclear-explosive test, even though the last one was all the way back in 1992, upon the end of the Cold War. Though the official noted such a rapid rollout would include "minimal diagnostics".
Likely any potential future US nuclear test would take place at highly secure national testing grounds in Nevada:
Previous heads of the agency’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have talked “about a very quick test with limited diagnostics, though certainly diagnostics, within months,” said Drew Walter, who is performing the duties of deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear matters. “A fuller test, fully diagnostic, and lots of data, all the bells and whistles, so to speak, might be measured in years. But ultimately, if the President directed because of a technical issue or a geopolitical issue, a system to go test, I think it would happen relatively rapidly.”
Walter also said that he believes the NNSA has a borehole at the Nevada National Security Site that would be suitable for such a rapid test.
In terms of any hot geopolitical issues which might provide impetus for "rapid" pursuit of a new test, recall Washington has of late charged both Russia and China with 'illegally' conducting low-yield nuclear tests, which both countries have denied.
Oh great - they’ve already got a spot picked out for a nuclear test. Make no mistake, the Trump administration could absolutely do this https://t.co/lmHWSGIWKR— John Carl Baker (@johncarlbaker) May 27, 2020
In Beijing's case it's believed China's military is able to conceal such provocative tests at an elaborate underground testing facility, though Chinese officials have vehemently denied this.
Currently the Nevada National Security Site is undergoing a major upgrade to its underground complex where it's believed future American nuke tests would be conducted.
Meanwhile, it remains that one of the biggest geo-strategic obstacles to the US conducting a test is that analysts believe it would free up Russia and China to conduct their own tests, given if Washington abandoned its strictly observed nuclear test moratorium, others would have reason and justification to follow suit in abandoning prohibitions and international obligations.
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