BY REBECCA KHEEL
The House Appropriation Committee’s draft fiscal 2021 appropriations bill for the Energy Department would prohibit funding from being used to “conduct, or prepare to conduct, any explosive nuclear weapons test that produces any yield,” according to text released Monday.
“Critically, the bill would prevent the Trump administration from using any funds to carry out its dangerous and short-sighted plan to resume nuclear testing,” committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Monday.
The provision was included in the panel’s energy spending bill 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 Washington Post first reported in May that the idea of conducting the United States’s first nuclear test in decades was raised at a May 15 meeting of senior officials. One official told the Post the idea for a test is “very much an ongoing conversation,” while another official said a decision was made to avoid resuming testing.
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.
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.
Last month, top House Democrats, including Lowey, sent a letter to the Pentagon and Energy Department calling the idea of conducting a nuclear test “unfathomable.”
The Senate’s version of a defense policy bill, meanwhile, would back preparations for a nuclear test.
An amendment to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act offered by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) would make at least $10 million available to “carry out projects related to reducing the time required to execute a nuclear test if necessary.” The amendment was approved in a party line 14-13 vote last month.