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Nevada senators have bill to block nuke weapons testing

Updated July 1, 2020 - 2:56 pm

WASHINGTON — Another bill to prevent the Trump administration from testing a nuclear weapon was filed in the Senate by two Nevada lawmakers following earlier reports that an underground explosion was being considered.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen, both of Nevada, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Conn., filed the bill in the Senate as an amendment to the defense funding bill.

The legislation is similar to bills filed this month in the House by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., that would prohibit the use of public funds to conduct a test.

But the bill filed by Cortez Masto and Rosen would require congressional approval to conduct nuclear testing.

“The decision to conduct an explosive nuclear test should not be made without congressional approval,” Cortez Masto said.

Rosen said: “Nevadans do not want to return to a time when nuclear testing was allowed in our state, putting the health and safety of Nevadans in jeopardy.”

Titus and Markey filed companion bills in the House and Senate this month to prevent nuclear testing at the Nevada National Security Site north of Las Vegas.

The bills were filed after a report in The Washington Post cited a senior Trump administration official and former officials who said a discussion on resumption of tests occurred.

Diplomatic leverage

The discussions were largely seen as an attempt to leverage Russia to agree to more restrictive measures when the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires next year.

A foreign envoy with the State Department has since said there is no plan to resume tests.

The last underground test occurred in 1992 at the Nevada security site, a facility larger than the state of Rhode Island and located 65 miles north of Atomic Liquors, which bills itself as Las Vegas’ oldest free-standing bar. In the 1950s, bar patrons viewed atmospheric atomic explosions from the bar’s roof.

Titus, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the report of discussions within the administration spurred her to file her bill, noting that when reports of talks on testing begin, “you don’t want to mess around.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, whose congressional district includes the Nevada National Security Site, co-sponsored the Titus bill citing safety concerns and the lack of need to resume testing the nuclear weapons stockpile.

Horsford said the administration “has repeatedly advocated for policies that would compromise the safety of Nevadans, and this recent discussion of resuming nuclear testing in our state is yet another example of such disrespect.”

The secretaries of Defense and Energy, by law, must certify every year that the weapons stockpile is effective and secure. The stockpile is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is under the Energy Department.

“NNSA continues to observe the 1992 nuclear test moratorium,” Ana Gamonal de Navarro, an administration spokeswoman, said this month.

“Since then, the United States has certified the deployed nuclear stockpile annually without nuclear explosive testing, leveraging advances in experimental science, modeling, and simulation applied to nuclear weapons under Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship, and has found no issues that require us to resume underground testing,” she said.

A presidential policy directive in 1993, however, requires the nuclear security administration to maintain readiness to conduct an underground nuclear test within 24 to 36 months, if required, to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the nuclear stockpile, Navarro said.

The Nevada site continues to conduct “subcritical” testing under the Stockpile Stewardship program to measure the effectiveness of the materials. If there is a resumption of nuclear testing, it would occur there, Titus said, because it is the only U.S. facility equipped to conduct the tests.

Conflicting bills

In the Senate, Markey’s legislation would also prohibit a resumption of testing.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., inserted in the defense bill a provision that would allow $10 million to prepare for resumption of nuclear testing.

Cortez Masto and Rosen joined an effort by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., to knock the Cotton provision out of final legislation.

The $10 million authorization is not included in the House version of the defense bill, which is currently being drafted.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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