Congress moves to block renewed nuclear testing upwind from Utah

Testing of nuclear bombs was a big issue in the 4th District race pitting Rep. Ben McAdams and Republican Burgess Owens.

(Lee Davidson | Tribune file photo) 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.

A move in Congress to allow renewed explosive nuclear weapons testing upwind from Utah in Nevada has fizzled.

That has Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, celebrating a win on an issue that was controversial in his race against the Republican who just defeated him, Rep.-elect Burgess Owens.

“Our success in this fight means that our citizens won’t have to face the prospect of more dangerous and unnecessary explosive weapons testing in our backyard,” McAdams said Friday.

The federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars paying Utahns and others in Western states who developed cancer after exposure to radiation from nuclear tests in earlier decades.

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

With that, the GOP-controlled Senate included $10 million in its version of the annual defense bill to allow preparations to resume such testing.

To counter that in the Democratic-controlled House, McAdams passed an amendment to ban nuclear weapons testing (Republican Utah Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and John Curtis all voted against it).

The final report of a House-Senate conference that worked out differences in their versions of the defense bill on Thursday did not contain the $10 million earlier sought by the Senate for weapons testing.

McAdams cheered that.

“Thousands of Utahns are still dealing with trauma inflicted by bombs exploded from decades past, leaving a legacy of illness, suffering and death,” McAdams said. “Utahns couldn’t trust the government to keep them safe from radioactive fallout before, and I don’t trust the government now.”

Nuclear weapons testing became one of the key issues in the Owens-McAdams congressional race.

McAdams launched ads attacking Owens for saying on a radio talk show that he supported Trump’s moves toward renewed testing. Owens had said, “I will support everything that the President Trump is doing in that arena,” and that Trump “just needs some backbone in the House and Senate” to help him on such issues.

Owens complained that McAdams’ ads distorted his stand, noting that he had clarified later after his radio comments that he opposed aboveground weapons testing.

Groups representing downwind cancer victims said, however, that underground tests in Nevada were also dangerous because they often leaked, and vented radiation that blew toward Utah.