In a blow to the far-right, the premier scientific panel advising the Defense Department has concluded that U.S. nuclear weapons don't need new tests or new designs.
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In a blow to the far-right, scientists have concluded that U.S. nuclear weapons don't need new tests or new designs.

The premier scientific panel advising the Defense Department just concluded that US nuclear weapons will last indefinitely under current maintenance programs. We don't need new nuclear weapons. We don't need new nuclear tests. We don't need expensive new nuclear programs.

To paraphrase The Who: the nukes are alright.

The report undermines the fear-based arguments of the nuclear extremists. While a strong consensus has developed among liberals and conservatives to reduce both the number and role of nuclear weapons in American security strategy, a small group has tried to use the issue for partisan attacks. They have manufactured myths of nuclear vulnerability to justify their opposition to a treaty banning all nations from conducting new nuclear tests.

Our top scientists are telling us the extremists are dead wrong.

The JASONS, a defense advisory group of nonpartisan scientists, reviewed the programs the government uses to assure the safety and reliability of our existing nuclear weapons. The US has about 9,400 nuclear weapons: 2,700 weapons in the active stockpile and other 6,700 in storage or awaiting dismantlement. Each weapon could destroy a medium-size city.

Even though most of these weapons were built years ago, the JASON panel found no evidence that aging posed any threat to weapon destructiveness, and that the "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss of confidence."

The government spends almost $6 billion a year in a "stockpile stewardship" program that maintains these weapons. Still, nuclear weapons proponents want more. They want to design and deploy new weapons. They have opposed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty President Clinton signed in 1996 and that 150 other countries have signed.

The treaty needs approval by the Senate. But opponents say we might have to test again, raising fears that even though the US has conduced over 1000 nuclear tests--more than the rest of the world combined--we might still have to do more.

The Nuclear Hangers-on

A chief opponent of the treaty, Senator Jon Kyl (R.-AZ), writes in his Wall Street Journal article, "Why We Need to Test Nuclear Weapons":

"There were concerns a decade ago that the U.S. might be unable to safely and reliably maintain its own nuclear deterrent--and the nuclear umbrella that protects our allies such as Japan, Australia and South Korea --if it forever surrendered the right to test its weapons. Those concerns over aging and reliability have only grown."

He is wrong. But this argument has become a far-right mantra. It found its way into the deeply flawed Strategic Posture Commission.

The Commission wrote:

"The Life Extension Program has to date been effective in dealing with the problem of modernizing the arsenal. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to... as the stockpile continues to age."

Again, this is wrong.

Science Trumps Perception

The truth is exactly the opposite. There is overwhelming evidence that our nuclear weapons maintenance programs work. And they are getting better. We have more and more confidence that we can maintain our nuclear weapons practically indefinitely.

"In other words, there really is no need to ever test a nuclear weapon - something the US hasn't done in the last 17 years - or build new replacement warheads."

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, agrees:

"The new JASON study explodes the old myth that the U.S. needs nuclear test explosions or new warhead designs to maintain an effective nuclear arsenal, and strengthens the case for U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty next year."

It is time to stop the fear-mongering. There is broad, bipartisan consensus for ratifying the test ban shared by national security heavyweights including George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, Bill Perry, Brent Scowcroft and scores of other former officials, military leaders and scientists. The Senate should join this consensus and drag itself out of cold war thinking and into the new century.

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