It’s time for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty

In 1997, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) released a study that
tracked atmospheric fallout from these tests. The NCI concluded
that “every American living in the continental United States received
varying levels of I-131 for about two months following each test.”
Those fears of strontium 90 were valid and, in fact, continue to be a
concern for families affected by nuclear weapons testing in the 1950’s
and 1960’s.

The 1990’s brought significant hope of progress. The United States
conducted its last underground nuclear weapons test explosion in the
fall of 1992 and developed a cutting edge scientific surveillance
method to maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal. U.S. leadership in
international negotiations marshaled support for the multilateral
Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In 1996, the United States was
the first to sign the treaty and other nations followed suit.

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Progress hit a stumbling block when the U.S. Senate failed to ratify
the treaty after an unfortunately rushed and partisan debate in 1999.
At that time, Senators raised two key technical questions about the
CTBT: Can the United States maintain its nuclear weapons stockpile
without testing, and can we detect clandestine nuclear testing abroad?

The NAS study addresses both of these concerns. The NAS affirmed that
overwhelming progress has been made over two decades, noting, “the
United States is now in a better position than at any time in the past
to maintain a safe and effective nuclear weapons stockpile without
testing and to monitor clandestine nuclear testing abroad.” Nuclear
weapons scientists have stated that they have a better understanding
of nuclear weapons now than when they were blowing up tests in Nevada.
Today the CTBT’s International Monitoring system is almost complete.
Together with national technical means, we now have thorough and
effective detection abilities.

The need for the United States to ratify the CTBT and work to bring
the treaty into effect is more urgent than ever. It is one essential
tool in preventing the spread of nuclear dangers. Banning tests
hinders nuclear-weapons countries like Russia, China and Pakistan from
proof-testing more sophisticated warhead designs. Potential
nuclear-armed countries like Iran will have a far more difficult time
developing deliverable nuclear warheads without nuclear tests. If the
CTBT is brought into effect, short-notice, on-site inspections will be
available, making it all but impossible for would be cheaters to go
undetected.

The case for the CTBT has grown over the past decades. Senators who
voted against ratification in 1999 should reconsider now. Former
Secretary of State George Shultz has said, “[My] fellow U.S.
Republicans may have been right to vote down the nuclear test ban
treaty a decade ago, but they’d be wrong to scuttle it again.”
Senators need to take a careful look at this newest evidence for a
CTBT and urge Senate action. The NAS report proves we are now in a
position to detect, deter and confront nuclear testing and nuclear
proliferators. This report should compel us to act, just as
radioactive fallout from nuclear tests compelled mothers to act 50
years ago.

Robinson is the Public Policy Director for Women’s
Action for New Directions (WAND).