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Scientists urge US not to resume nuke tests

Updated June 19, 2020 - 2:07 pm

WASHINGTON — A group of prominent scientists urged Congress to halt renewed nuclear weapons testing in Nevada after funds were tucked into a Senate version of the defense bill.

In a June 16 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the dozen scientists wrote “there is no technical need for a nuclear test.”

“Indeed, statements attributed to administration officials suggesting the motivation is that a nuclear explosive test would provide leverage in future nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia and China,” read the letter, signed by Philip Coyle III, a former assistant defense secretary and director for testing at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has placed $10 million into the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1.

House version expected

House lawmakers are expected to craft their own version of the bill in coming weeks, and any differences between the two pieces of legislation will be ironed out in a House-Senate conference committee before final legislation is produced.

Lawmakers scrambled to file legislation to block resumed testing after a Washington Post story earlier this year cited senior Trump administration officials and former officials discussing testing.

Resumed testing is largely seen as an attempt to leverage Russia to agree to more restrictive measures when the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires next year.

It also prompted a response from China last week that warned the Trump administration against restarting U.S. testing, calling it a step toward global insecurity.

1992 last underground test

The last underground test occurred in 1992 at Nevada National Security Site, a facility larger than the state of Rhode Island and located 65 miles north of Las Vegas. The facility is under the National Nuclear Security Administration with the Department of Energy.

Legislation to prohibit a resumption of testing was filed in the Senate by Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat.

Titus said any resumption of testing would occur at the national security site in Nevada.

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

“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.

Readiness to test required

A presidential policy directive in 1993, however, requires the National 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 Senate Armed Services Committee included $10 million in the defense authorization bill to retain staff if nuclear stockpile testing is deemed necessary.

House lawmakers on the Armed Services Committee will begin the process of producing their version of the bill next week.

In their letter to the Senate, the scientists said a U.S. nuclear explosive test “would have significant negative repercussions.”

“A likely response to the U.S. test would be a resumption of testing by Russia and China, and perhaps also by North Korea, India, and Pakistan,” the letter stated.

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

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