Senate panel approves $10M to prepare for nuclear test ‘if necessary’

Aaron Schwartz

The Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced an amendment aimed at reducing the amount of time it would take to carry out a nuclear test.

The amendment, offered by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), would make at least $10 million available to “carry out projects related to reducing the time required to execute a nuclear test if necessary,” according to a copy of the measure obtained by The Hill on Monday.

The amendment was approved in a party-line, 14-13 vote during the committee’s closed-door markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week, a congressional aide said.

The committee announced Thursday that it had approve this year’s NDAA and released a summary, but the full text and committee report, including every amendment that was adopted, has not yet been released.

Asked about Cotton’s amendment, a committee spokesperson said the bill text “should be” available “soon.”

Cotton’s amendment comes after the Trump administration reportedly raised the prospect of resuming nuclear testing as a negotiating tactic in efforts to secure a trilateral nuclear agreement with Russia and China.

The Washington Post reported last month that the idea of conducting the United States’s first nuclear test in decades was raised at a May 15 meeting of senior officials. One official told the Post the idea for a test is “very much an ongoing conversation,” while another official said a decision was made to avoid resuming testing.

The United States has not conducted an explosive nuclear test since 1992, checking the efficacy and reliability of its weapons instead with subcritical tests that produce no nuclear yield, computer simulations and other scientific methods.

The only country known to have conducted a nuclear test this century is North Korea.

The Trump administration, without evidence, has also in recent months accused Russia and China of conducting very low-yield tests.

The United States has adhered to a moratorium even as it has not ratified a United Nations agreement to ban testing known as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The treaty has not been ratified by enough countries to enter into force, but major world powers have followed its main tenet of ending nuclear tests.

Earlier this month, top House Democrats wrote a letter to the Pentagon and the Energy Department calling the idea of resuming nuclear testing “unfathomable.”

Democrats in the House and Senate have also introduced bills that seek to prevent a resumption in nuclear testing.

In response to Cotton’s amendment, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said conducting a nuclear test would be “beyond reckless.”

“A U.S. nuclear test blast would certainly not advance efforts to rein in Chinese and Russian nuclear arsenals or create a better environment for negotiations,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “Instead, it would break the de facto global nuclear test moratorium, likely trigger nuclear testing by other states, and set off a new nuclear arms race in which everyone would come out a loser.”

Kimball also called on Congress to “step in to prevent the United States from becoming a  nonproliferation rogue state by enacting a prohibition on the use of taxpayers’ funds to resume nuclear weapons testing in their upcoming votes on the defense authorization and the energy appropriations bills.”

Tags National Defense Authorization Act NDAA Nuclear arms race Nuclear proliferation nuclear testing Nuclear weapons testing Tom Cotton
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