Steve Erickson: Utah leaders must speak out against new nuclear weapons tests

(AP file photo) This July 16, 1945, photo, shows an aerial view after the first atomic explosion at Trinity Test Site, N.M.

Recently, alarming reports surfaced that the Trump Administration is actively considering resuming nuclear weapons tests in Nevada, perhaps within months, as part of a renewed effort to develop new nuclear weapons.

In swift reaction, legislation was filed in both the U.S. Senate and House to prohibit use of funds to conduct new tests (S.3886 and H.R. 7140 - Preserving Leadership Against Nuclear Explosives Testing or PLANET Act), and a letter signed by 82 members of Congress was sent June 8 to President Trump calling this an “awful idea” that is “scientifically, technically unnecessary” and “dangerously provocative.”

As yet, no Republicans have signed on to either action, and this news has been met with resounding silence from Utah leaders — political, civic and religious. This is not — and must not become — a partisan matter. Nor should it be left to discourse for scholars, experts and vested insiders only.

People in Utah and neighboring Western states have suffered the devastating health consequences of past atomic testing and the injustice of being repeatedly lied to and ignored for decades by their own government.

Downwinders know that even talk of the potential resumption of nuclear weapons tests is a real and now present threat to public health. For us, this is a moral question of existential importance that demands an immediate and forceful NO!

It is not just idle talk — the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 14-13 to “carry out projects related to reducing the time required to execute a nuclear test if necessary.” The president’s budget for next year proposes a 19% increase for nuclear weapons.

And this occurs amidst a pandemic, global climate disruptions and escalating international tensions, a ramping up of forces and new weapons development by the major powers, and unilateral U.S. withdrawal from arms control agreements.

The U.S. has walked away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (2002), the Intermediate Forces Treaty (2019), the Iran nuclear accord (2018), and the Open Skies Treaty (2020). Creation of the new Space Force may put the Outer Space Treaty in jeopardy as the Administration pursues new space-based weaponry. And all indications are that U.S. negotiating demands may result in failure to extend the New Start Treaty with Russia — which caps and further reduces the numbers of nuclear weapons and delivery systems — before it expires in February 2021.

The Trump administration has leveled unsubstantiated accusations of nuclear explosives testing by Russia and China in violation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The United States complies with and is a signatory to the CTBT, but unlike Russia, has not ratified it. All three nations have adhered to a nuclear testing moratorium since 1992.

Lastly, despite a huge and still effective stockpile, the U.S. plans resumed production of the explosive cores of atomic weapons and our weapons labs are developing a new warhead for deployment on intermediate range missiles. All these actions have dubious military and strategic value for the U.S., but threaten a dangerous and costly new nuclear arms race.

This bellicose positioning by the Trump Administration is sure to provoke an aggressive response from both Russia and China and further embolden nervous or ambitious regional powers like Iran and North Korea to dismiss arms control efforts and seek nuclear options.

As The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock ticks closer to midnight, Mr. Trump appears to be shaking the foundations of an internationally negotiated and agreed upon nuclear arms control regime that has — so far — prevented the unthinkable since the end of World War II.

This summer marks the 75th Anniversary of the first nuclear explosives test, the Trinity test in New Mexico, and first use of “The Bomb” on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now is not the time for political and moral timidness. Utah citizens — and our leaders — must speak out loudly now against new nuclear testing.

Stephen Erickson

Steve Erickson, Salt Lake City, has been a consultant and volunteer with Downwinders Inc. since the early 1980s.