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Silencing the Bomb

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 quest 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.
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Table of Contents

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.


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

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