- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

It has been 10 years this week since the last U.S. nuclear test shook the ground at the Nevada Test Site.
Lacking the antinuclear conviction and political clout to do away with nuclear weapons, Bill Clinton instead tried to make nuclear weapons politically correct. He declared an indefinite nuclear test moratorium, signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, and suppressed research and development that would do anything more than keep the U.S. nuclear stockpile on life support.
In 1998, India and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons and, later, the Senate rejected the Test Ban Treaty. This treaty is so ineffective it doesn't even have a practical definition of what constitutes a nuclear test. The Bush administration does not support the treaty, but the test moratorium and too many other Clinton-era nuclear weapon policies remain in effect, nonetheless.
Nuclear testing was replaced by a "program" and a "process." The program spends billions each year on computers and software for simulating nuclear weapon performance and for non-nuclear experiments including those with giant lasers. In a prime example of Orwellian doublespeak, this program is called "science-based stockpile stewardship" even though it is less scientific since it precludes the most prolific source of empirical data on nuclear weapons, namely, nuclear tests.
A process of nuclear weapon certification was also established in which every year, scientists evaluate the stockpile using the non-nuclear tools now permitted. If anyone concludes a nuclear test is absolutely necessary to resolve some inescapable problem, the recommendation must go through a bureaucratic gauntlet all the way up to the president.
This certification process is seriously flawed. Since only computer simulations and static and non-nuclear examinations are allowed, there is a risk significant technical issues will not be uncovered simply because we are not looking in the right way. As the saying goes, absence of evidence of a problem is not evidence a problem is absent.
The psychology of the process is also wrong. A "lowly" scientist's recommendation that nuclear testing is needed would likely be based on some arcane technical reason but would begin a chain of events having major repercussions to him, his laboratory and the entire nation. It would be an admission that all those expensive computers, expensive non-nuclear testing machines, and all that expensive brainpower fell short. No one would have told anti-nuclear President Clinton and who today would hand President Bush another problem?
Besides, it is simply bad policy to conduct nuclear tests only after we are convinced our weapons are "broken." With this as our advertised approach, nuclear test resumption discloses to everyone, everywhere, the U.S. is in a nuclear weapon crisis not very smart. A policy of certification with routine rather than emergency nuclear testing would remove this problem and be consistent with preventative maintenance standards demanded for nearly all military equipment and even consumer goods. Without daily use, periodic testing is even more important for nuclear weapons than for refrigerators, cars and tanks.
Who can predict how the U.S. may use nuclear weapons in the future? Frankly, it is impossible to predict these future scenarios with any certainty. However, one thing is certain: U.S. use of nuclear weapons will not be casual. It will be under the most desperate circumstances, and duds will not be acceptable.
Stockpile reductions promise less than one-tenth of the old stockpile will remain active. Thus, we must be certain the Cold War relics we keep (with their "eight-track tape" technology) function when called upon. Better yet, new weapons should be developed for optimum military usefulness in yield, precise and rapid delivery, etc. Unfortunately, modernization of the nuclear stockpile is hampered by the absence of nuclear tests.
Only a fool would believe unreliable or militarily obsolete U.S. nuclear weapons will make this a safer world. But fools seem to abound in this business. Even some in military leadership accept this degradation and oppose nuclear testing.
Nuclear weapons can be a costly nightmare of military command, control and security. Nuclear weapons are also not an easy fit into the warrior ethic. In some sense, using nuclear weapons is an admission of military failure: failure of those nifty, surgical, precision-guided, multimillion-dollar bombs and missiles armed with "humane" conventional explosives, failure of military stratagems and traditional battlefield skill. Instead, to rescue the day, the military must call for these starkly impersonal, overwhelmingly destructive, unholy nuclear weapons.
For the past 10 years, U.S. scientists have been working hard trying to squeeze as much blood as possible from this no-nuclear-test turnip. But it is not enough that only our scientists sitting in their cubicles reviewing computer simulations feel confident of our weapons. It is even more important that our enemies believe this.
Among other factors, U.S. credibility is undermined by our timidity to test our own nuclear weapons on our own soil in fear of international objections and protests by Martin Sheen and other Hollywood 1960s retreads.
The U.S. continues to spend several billion dollars each year to maintain the nuclear weapon complex and the aging stockpile. While much of this work should continue, a significant fraction is spent on activities simply to compensate for the fact that we are not conducting nuclear tests. Instead of these, a program of one or two well-instrumented nuclear tests each year would cost less, supply a huge amount of directly relevant data to U.S. scientists, and do all the other things that nuclear tests did in the past to assert the credibility of U.S. nuclear capabilities to the entire world.
Hello? These are nuclear weapons they require nuclear tests.

Kenneth Adney worked for more than 25 years as a scientist for the Energy Department. He was involved in more than 100 nuclear tests and continues to work in support of the U.S. nuclear weapon program. The views expressed in this article are solely his own.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide