Nuclear weapons are precisely designed and constructed devices that of necessity employ materials that degrade over time. This degradation must be monitored and, if necessary, corrected to ensure their ongoing safety and reliability.
The political decision to stop all testing in the U.S. was undertaken to encourage other nations to do likewise. While this policy has not been effective internationally, it has made it very difficult for the scientists and engineers in this country to certify the ongoing safety and operability of U.S. weapons.
In the past, a sample weapon could be removed from its deployment (say a nuclear submarine) and tested underground at the Nevada test site. The experimental data from these tests provided a solid basis for certification. Now that the weapons are far beyond their design lifetimes, this type of test data is needed more than ever.
Rep. Ben McAdams’ recent amendment to bar such testing is based on an incorrect premise. He stated in part that “Explosive nuclear testing causes irreparable harm to human health and to our environment.” The tests that are needed would do none of this. They would release virtually no radiation to the atmosphere and would have a negligible impact on the environment.
I expect that Rep. McAdams knows this perfectly well, or he wouldn't have used a picture of a 1950s-era above ground nuclear test to sell his point. Showing such a picture in the context of current practices in underground nuclear testing is deceptive at best.
James F. Jackson, Provo