House passes Ben McAdams’ ban on nuclear weapons testing

(Lee Davidson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, speaks against renewed nuclear testig during a news conference on July 6, 2020 at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. Next to him are pictures of the "Sedan" test in Nevada exactly 58 years earlier.

Washington • The House on Monday moved to prohibit the resumption of nuclear weapons testing by passing Rep. Ben McAdams’s amendment to a bill funding the Department of Defense.

The amendment, which bars the use of any funding to test nuclear weapons, passed nearly along partisan lines 227-179, with one Republican and one independent supporting the amendment.

Utah GOP Reps. Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart opposed the effort to halt nuclear tests.

“Explosive nuclear testing causes irreparable harm to human health and to our environment and jeopardizes the U.S. leadership role on nuclear nonproliferation,” McAdams, D-Utah, said on the House floor.

The Trump administration has discussed resuming nuclear weapons tests — which previously were done in Nevada and New Mexico, with radiation fallout that spread across Utah — as an attempt to push China and Russia into negotiations to regulate nuclear weapons.

The amendment to the bill, which still needs Senate approval, sparked a partisan debate in the House, with several Republicans saying it ties the hands of the United States while other nuclear-armed countries are free to continue their own nuke tests.

“The harder we make it, the less credible our nuclear deterrent is and the less credible our nuclear deterrent is, the more our adversaries will try to take advantage of us and the more our allies will decide to develop their own nuclear weapons because they can’t depend on us,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., called McAdams’ amendment a threat to “undermine the credibility of our nation’s nuclear deterrent.”

“There is a consistency on the other side of the aisle, which is very concerning, that finds a moral equivalence between the United States and our adversaries,” Cheney said. “Also an affinity for treaties that bind only the United States and no one else. If this amendment becomes law … the United States loses the ability to ensure that we can test, if necessary, to ensure that our return is reliable and therefore credible. That prohibition emboldens our adversaries and it undermines our allies.”

The United States hasn’t tested nuclear weapons since 1992, though The Washington Post reported in May that senior administration officials discussed resuming tests as a way to get Moscow and Beijing to the table to negotiate regulation of their nuclear armaments.

McAdams, who faces former NFL player Burgess Owens in November, has made blocking nuclear testing a major issue in his campaign. Owens, the Republican nominee in the 4th Congressional District, had previously voiced his support for resuming nuclear testing.

Owens, though, recently said he would oppose such efforts on Utah soil. There hasn't been a test of such weapons in the state but there have been more than a thousand in Nevada.

“I will be on the front line to stand against anyone who would do anything to endanger our beautiful state, it’s environment, or its citizens — no matter their political affiliation,” Burgess said in a recent statement.

The federal government has spent millions of dollars paying Utahns and others in Western states who developed cancer after exposure to radiation from nuclear tests. The Downwinders payments, though, only cover nine counties in Utah, despite evidence showing the tests affected the whole state.

A 1997 National Institute of Cancer study found that every state received some level of fallout from nuclear testing and said 200,000 cases of thyroid cancer alone were associated with it — but said the RECA (Radiation Exposure Compensation Act) doesn’t recognize or compensate many victims.