After ten years of negotiation the three “nuclear nations” – the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union – signed a Treaty prohibiting all test detonations of nuclear weapons except those carried out underground.

The Treaty was developed both to slow the arms race (nuclear testing necessary for continued nuclear weapon development), and to stop the excessive release of nuclear fallout into the atmosphere.

The Treaty came about because of growing concerns about radioactive fallout as a result of nuclear weapons testing underwater, in the atmosphere, and on the ground’s surface. Initially scientists had claimed that there was little danger to anyone close to a nuclear test explosion. Indeed a friend of mine, now dead, was present at several tests in Australia where he and his fellow army conscripts were told to turn their backs to the explosion and cover their eyes with their hands. Most died in middle age but of course the government denied any cause and effect. However that’s a story for another day.

The Treaty had taken a long time to negotiate and it is generally agreed that it was the persistence of UK Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home that finally succeeded in getting agreement from the others. Incidentally I notice that the results of a poll by Leeds University name Sir Alec Douglas-Home as one of the worst Prime Minister’s of the 20th Century. Don’t know how they get that result as he certainly did a lot of good work during his tenure. His real problems were that he wasn’t photogenic and he just got on with things quietly and competently. There is a story that he was once being interviewed live on television in his office at 10 Downing Street and when it finished his wife came in looking very worried. “Are you alright?” she said, “because you look dreadful on television.”

Foreign Secretary Douglas-Home had to resign his hereditary peerage as Earl Home in order to take up the post of Prime Minister when Harold MacMillan resigned through illness. He could not have done so had it not been that the law had recently been changed at the instigation of socialist MP and Minister Anthony Wedgewood-Benn (later to be known as Tony Benn) who didn’t want to leave the House of Commons when his father died leaving him the title of Viscount Stansgate.

Although the Treaty was open for any other nation to sign very few did (or have done). Notably France continued to test Nuclear Weapons in the atmosphere until very recently and may do so again. It was this attitude which led to the Greenpeace campaign against French Nuclear testing in the Pacific and the murder of Greenpeace activists by French agents.

See Also:

Category: Historic Events  
The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

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