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  Timeline of the Nuclear Age 1990s  1998

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The largest U.S. private operator of nuclear power plants, Commonwealth Edison, announces it will close two of its twelve nuclear generators because they are too expensive to operate.

United States President Bill Clinton and his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania sign the "Charter of Partnership" in Washington, which obligates the United States to support the Baltic nations for early membership in NATO.

Civilian leaders, including about fifty past or present heads of state, call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. General Lee Butler (USAF, Ret.) releases the statement at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and gives a report on the progress made in the past year since the release of the statement by retired military leaders. The civilian leaders state, "The sheer destructiveness of nuclear weapons invokes a moral imperative for their elimination."

The French government announces its decision to shut down the world’s largest fast-breeder nuclear reactor, the Superphénix, located at Creys-Malville, near the Swiss border. The dismantling of the reactor is scheduled to begin in 2005.

The European Parliament passes a resolution calling on the U.S. government to "halt the series of subcritical tests" and calls on "all governments to refrain from carrying out such tests."

France's National Assembly ratifies the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) unanimously. 

The United Kingdom retires its last tactical nuclear weapon, the WE 177 free-fall bomb, from service.

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) agrees by consensus to establish an Ad Hoc Committee with the mandate to begin negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.

Relocation of six steel canisters with high-level radioactive waste from southern Germany to an interim storage site near Ahaus, Germany draws thousands of protesters and involves the largest police deployment in Germany's post-war history.

The U.S. Department of Energy detonates a subcritical nuclear test, called Stagecoach, in the LYNER (U1a) facility at the Nevada Test Site. The test is designed by scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Pentagon submits to Congress a highly classified report outlining nine proposals for reducing the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal to below the 6,000 nuclear warheads allowed by the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I).

Britain and France become the first nuclear weapons states to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), banning all nuclear weapons test explosions. To enter into force, the treaty requires ratification by forty-four specifically named countries with nuclear capability. To this date, six of the forty-four have ratified the treaty. Pakistan announces that it has successfully test-fired a medium-range 1,000-mile surface-to-surface missile that is believed to be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Pakistan named its medium-range missile after Ghauri, a 12th century Afghan emperor who attacked India and defeated a Hindu prince named Prithvi. India named its own medium-range missile Prithvi. [see June 3, 1994]

The United States imposes symbolic sanctions on North Korea for transfer of missile technology to Pakistan's research laboratory. 

The second preparatory committee meeting for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in the year 2000 is held in Geneva. The meeting concludes with no progress on nuclear disarmament.

The U.S. Senate ratifies the expansion of NATO to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, in a vote of 80 to 19.

A leak of radioactive heavy water containing tritium spills into a lake in India from the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station at Kota, a northern desert state. The accident was belatedly reported in December, 1999 and blamed on a mechanical error. This is the third admitted incident in India involving a release of radiation; the other two occurred in 1979 in a Tarapur reactor and in 1993 at a Narora plant explosion.

India conducts three underground nuclear tests, its first in 24 years. One of the tests is a thermonuclear weapon. India’s Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee states, "The tests conducted were with a fission device, a low-yield device, and a thermonuclear device... I warmly congratulate the scientists and engineers who have carried out the successful tests."

India conducts two more nuclear tests despite worldwide protests.

The Clinton administration approves plans for the first permanent storage site for nuclear waste byproducts of the Cold War weapons-building program: the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad in the New Mexico desert. Most of the radioactive material is currently stored in drums at twenty-three temporary storage sites.

A Spanish steel plant (Acerinox) in Algeciras, Cadiz adds a capsule filled with cesium 137 to scrap metal before melting it down. The radioactive substance is released into the atmosphere, and nuclear authorities in France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland detect 2,400 microbequerel of radiation in the air--one thousand times higher than usual ground reading.

Pakistan conducts five nuclear tests in response to India’s nuclear tests earlier in the month. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif states, "I am not representing a coward nation.... Today we have settled the score with India." Pakistan also announces that it will place a nuclear warhead on its recently tested Ghauri medium-range missile, which can reach most targets in India.

The United Kingdom announces in its Strategic Defence Review that it will reduce its nuclear arsenal to below 200 weapons and 1 submarine on de-alerted status.

Pakistan conducts its sixth nuclear weapons test. The explosion is in the 1 to 5 kiloton range. President Clinton states, "Pakistan and India are contributing to a self-defeating cycle of escalation."

Eight nations, calling themselves The New Agenda Coalition, call for the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide. In a Joint Declaration, the foreign ministers of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Slovenia, South Africa, and Sweden call on the nuclear-weapons states to move towards nuclear disarmament.

The British government announces plans to unilaterally cut the number of nuclear warheads on its Trident submarines by up to half and offers to provide on-the-record information about warhead numbers and fissile materials.

Following nearly five weeks of negotiations in Rome, a treaty to establish a permanent International Criminal Court is accepted by a vote of 120 to 7, with 21 abstentions. The treaty, when ratified by 60 countries, will allow the Court to hold individuals accountable for crimes of genocide, crimes of war, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. The seven countries that voted against establishing the Court include Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and the United States.

In an article entitled "Nuclear Reactions," Max Frankel, former executive editor of the New York Times, regrets the paper’s support of "nuclearism."

Iran test-fires a medium-range missile, the Shahab-3, that explodes about 100 seconds into the flight. The missile, with a range of about 800 miles, is capable of hitting Israel and Saudi Arabia and is based on a North Korean Rodong missile.

The Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, chaired by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, releases its report, which warns, “The newer ballistic missile-equipped nations [North Korea, Iran, and Iraq]…would be able to inflict major destruction on the U.S. within about five years of a decision to acquire such a capability (ten years in the case of Iraq).”

North Korea tests a middle-range missile, Taepo Dong 1, with a range of up to 1,240 miles (2,000 km). The test, which carries the missile’s second stage over Japan, came just days before the expected accession of de facto leader Kim Jong Il to president. North Korea claims a failed attempt to send a satellite into orbit.

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin sign an agreement to prevent nuclear weapons accidents. Both sides pledge to exchange information about early warning systems and the launch of ballistic missiles and space ships.

Brazil joins the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapons state.

The U.S. Congress approves $20 million for the "Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention" or the "nuclear-cities" program as it is also referred. The program is a U.S. attempt to prevent nuclear scientists from moving to countries such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea when Russia cuts 45,000 jobs in its massive nuclear-weapons complex. Roughly 1.5 million employees work in facilities in ten specially constructed "closed cities" and twenty-five other sites across the country. The secret cities were unlisted on maps until the end of the Cold War. Another project approved by the U.S. Congress is aimed at removing radioactive cesium-137, which was found in the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident, from cow’s milk.

The U.S. Department of Energy conducts its fourth subcritical nuclear test, code-named Bagpipe, 962 feet below ground in the Nevada desert, 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Switzerland's Minister of Energy states that the Swiss Government wants to phase out nuclear power after the licenses for the six power plants expire in 2012.

The "U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency" starts its work. The agency combines three offices that had focused on the Cold War-era superpower arms race. The new agency deals with modern-day threats of NBC weapons from "rogue" nations and terrorists. Planned as an effort to trim the Pentagon's work force of 130,000 by 20% in five years, the agency is expected to expand as both countries and terrorists gain access to NBC weapons and the means to deliver them.

In a press conference, 13 million signatures collected in Japan supporting nuclear weapons abolition are presented at the United Nations.

The U.S. Department of Energy unveils its supercomputer, Pacific Blue, at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in Northern California. Manufactured by IBM, Pacific Blue is capable of simulating nuclear tests as part of the Stockpile Stewardship Management Program. The UN General Assembly adopts the New Agenda Coalition resolution “Towards a nuclear weapon free world: a New Agenda,” which focuses on steps towards nuclear disarmament.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Joshka Fischer, a member of the German Green party, suggests that Bonn might push for NATO to declare a no-first-use nuclear policy. The day after, the U.S. and German defense chiefs, Cohen and Scharping, agreed that NATO should not change the centerpiece of its nuclear policy.

Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov signs an agreement with Mohammed Aghazadeh, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, to complete the 1,000-megawatt Bushehr nuclear power plant. Russia also agrees to study the possibility of building a second nuclear power plant in Iran. Russia’s actions draw criticism from the U.S. and Israel.

North Korea and the United States hold bilateral talks concerning what may be a secret nuclear facility in North Korea. Agreements stall after discussion of compensation for sanctions on North Korea is brought up.

Russia conducts a subcritical nuclear test at its Novaya Zemlya test site. In his protest letter to President Boris Yeltsin, Hiroshima Mayor Takashi Hiraoka wrote two days later: "It is extremely regrettable that your country carried out a test in a manner that ran counter to international opinion demanding total abolishment of nuclear weapons."  (Russia Today, 10 December 1998)

The 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly.

The U.S. Department of Energy conducts its fifth subcritical nuclear test, code-named Cimarron, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory "U-1a" facility. The test consists of several experiments to "measure early time dynamic behavior of special nuclear material."

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC), retiring chairman of the Armed Services Committee, expressed "grave concern" that the decision "would only encourage other nations to convert their civilian nuclear facilities into weapons production sites." Bruce Hall (Peace Action) warned that the DOE is "blurring the lines between civilian and military applications of nuclear power." Associated Press, 23 December 1998

The U.S. Department of Energy announces it will award a multimillion-dollar contract to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to produce tritium, a hydrogen isotope, at the Watts Bar reactor, 50 miles south of Knoxville. This is the first time in U.S. history that a civilian nuclear plant will be used to boost the destructive power of U.S. atomic weapons.

Deputy Nuclear Energy Minister Lev Ryabev acknowledges that Russia conducted five subcritical nuclear tests at Novaya Zemlya, its Arctic testing range, between September 14 and December 13, 1998.

Russia deploys ten new Topol-M nuclear missiles and puts them on full combat readiness. The Topol-M is a lightweight, single-warhead Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), with a range of 6,200 miles that replaces heavier ICBMs with multiple-warheads. To increase the security of the weapons from hostile preemptive strikes, the missiles are mounted on vehicles and not stored in silos. The Topol-M will be the new heart of Russia’s missile forces. Forty are expected to be built by the end of 2000.

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