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Testing Redux 

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A dear friend of mine who is a former U.S. Air Force colonel had a dire prediction for me when we last met. “The decision has already been made by this administration to resume testing. Within four years they’ll find an excuse to do it.”

Those of us who follow the issue have suspected as much. But hearing it put so bluntly by one who not only witnessed testing firsthand, but who also watched the government cover up its consequences, was unnerving. My friend has been long retired but his military experience gives him an insider’s understanding of how things work.

Last November when a committee headed by the bold Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) defied the administration by zeroing out funding for bunker busters and mini nukes, some of us prematurely claimed a victory. Hobson’s committee, in a bipartisan move that drew the immediate ire of administration hawks, voted unanimously to strip funding for the new nuclear weapons. Hobson’s committee did, however, leave in funding for upgrades to the Nevada Test Site to the tune of $22.5 million, a small cut from the administrations’ requested $25 million. As long as funds are available for enhancing the test site, we risk repeating the dreadful mistakes of the past.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing more indications that the administration is intent on resuming nuclear testing. A March 15 issue of The Nuclear Test Watch noted that replacing the United Nations-bound John Bolton with Dr. Robert Joseph as undersecretary ofarms control and international security should “clearly be identified as a move toward resuming nuclear testing.” Joseph played a principle role in the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 ABM treaty and is associated with the National Institute for Public Policy, a think-tank openly opposed to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and supportive of resumed testing.

Samuel Bodman, who replaced Spencer Abraham as energy secretary, wasted no time in pushing the Nevada Test Site’s ability to resume actual underground tests. In February, Bodman told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee the administration wants $2 billion in the next fiscal year to verify that America’s aging atomic arsenal remains operational. He said no tests are currently planned, but stressed the importance of leaving the door open to resumed testing.

In a statement delivered on the U.S. Senate floor last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was highly critical of the administration’s obscenely expensive nuclear initiative. Noting that Bush’s budget calls for $25 million to shorten the Nevada Test Site time-to-test readiness to 18 months, Feinstein said, “This sends a clear signal of an urgent move to begin underground testing as soon as possible.”

After visiting the Test Site last month, Rep. Jim Matheson’s staff verified that the Department of Energy is moving ahead to ready the test site. “I am aware that DOE employees are moving forward with getting the test site ready,” Matheson said. “I’ve consistently voted against that and I remain opposed to moving forward with test site readiness.”

Callously ignoring the 1992 moratorium on underground testing and apparently oblivious to the devastation that 41 years of nuclear testing wreaked on this country, the Bush administration and its adherents—including Utah’s own Rep. Chris Cannon—are willing to again risk the health and safety of Americans in the name of “protecting” us. Evidence shows that underground tests can and have leaked. We know there can be no 100 percent assurance they will not leak. Yet, this administration holds up the specter of terrorists who may use WMD as justification for exploding our nation’s WMD in our own back yard. Testing weapons means using them. That’s hardly a rational course.

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More by Eric S. Peterson

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