The Harm of Nuclear Weapons Tests for Peaceful Nuclear Power

The Senate Armed Services Committee advanced an amendment last week that is “aimed at reducing the amount of time it would take to carry out a nuclear test.” Sponsored by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), the legislation moved forward in a closed session by a party line vote, and follows a report last month that top Trump administration officials had discussed the possible resumption of U.S. nuclear test explosions.


Since news of the White House discussion broke, many experts have emphasized the severe consequences of nuclear testing, something the United States has not done since 1992. The expressed concerns have ranged from public health risks to diplomatic crises to nuclear proliferation and more. However, one issue that deserves more attention is the crisis such an action would create for the peaceful use of nuclear power.


Thanks to the efforts of U.S. diplomats in the last several decades, there are clear barriers between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. These lines are delineated by a suite of agreements, which include the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has been the centerpiece of international nuclear security for more than 50 years, and the nuclear weapon test moratorium first announced by the United States in 1993 and now observed by the entire world.


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Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. served for nearly three decades at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, including a decade and a half as general counsel as well as Acting Director of the agency for most of 1993. In 1993 he led the effort to establish a long-term moratorium on the conduct of nuclear weapons tests. From 1994 to 1996, he was a principal figure in the worldwide effort to successfully support the conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations. In 1994 President Clinton appointed Thomas Graham as his special representative for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament, with the rank of Ambassador. From 1993 to 1995 Ambassador Graham led the successful U.S. government effort to indefinitely extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He has taught at—among others—Stanford University, University of Virginia, Georgetown University, University of Washington and Oregon State University.

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