House votes to block funding for nuclear testing

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States in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will meet for the first time June 21-23, 2022, in Vienna.

The House approved Monday a measure aimed at preventing President Trump from conducting the United States’s first explosive nuclear test in decades.

The House voted 227-179, largely along party lines, to pass an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prohibit funding from being used “to conduct or make preparations for any explosive nuclear weapons test that produces any yield.”

Two Democrats, Reps. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.) and Henry Cuellar (Texas), voted against the amendment, while one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), supported the measure.

Inclusion of the prohibition in the House version of the NDAA sets up a conflict with the Senate’s version of the bill that will need to be reconciled before it is sent to the president’s desk. The Senate’s version of the NDAA includes an amendment from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that would make at least $10 million available to “carry out projects related to reducing the time required to execute a nuclear test if necessary.”

“We do not need to do live nuclear testing, and the reason we are concerned about this is because the Senate has actually put $10 million into their version of this defense bill to do precisely that,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said. “We want to make it clear, we don’t think it’s a good idea to do live nuclear testing.”

The dueling proposals on nuclear testing come after reports earlier this year that the Trump administration raised the prospect of resuming nuclear testing as a negotiating tactic against Moscow and Beijing.

The Trump administration is seeking a trilateral nuclear agreement with Russia and China to replace the expiring bilateral New START nuclear treaty with Russia. But Beijing has repeatedly rejected the administration’s invitation to join nuclear talks.

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.

In addition to the NDAA amendment, House Democrats included in a separate defense spending bill and in the Energy Department spending bill similar bans on the use of funds for nuclear testing.

Opponents of resuming nuclear testing, including Democrats and arms control advocates, argue a U.S. test would trigger nuclear testing by other countries and open the door to an arms race. An explosive would also be detrimental to human health and the environment without providing any benefits to studying the U.S. nuclear arsenal, they argue.

“When Utahns learned about recent high-level meetings on resuming nuclear weapons testing, it rang alarm bells,” said Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah), who sponsored the amendment. “Thousands of Utahns are still dealing with trauma inflicted by bombs exploded from decades past, leaving a legacy of illness, suffering and death. Why would we ever go down that path again?”

Those who opposed Monday’s amendment, meanwhile, argued it would amount to unilateral disarmament.

“If this amendment becomes law … the United States loses the ability to ensure that we can test if necessary, to ensure that our deterrent is reliable and therefore credible,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said. “That prohibition emboldens our adversaries and it undermines our allies’ faith in the nuclear umbrella.”

Updated at 8:57 p.m.

Tags Adam Smith Brian Fitzpatrick Donald Trump Liz Cheney Tom Cotton

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