Earlier this month Ellen Tauscher, Undersecretary of State for arms control, said, "The reality is that the United States has not tested a nuclear weapon for nearly twenty years, and we do not need to do so."
So why hasn't the United States ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)? This treaty would ban all nuclear test explosions.
The CTBT was rejected by the Senate in 1999. Some senators thought the monitoring system was insufficient to prevent a nation from cheating and conducting a secret test. Others felt that nuclear weapons testing is needed to maintain the arsenal.
Thomas D’Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) recently explained, "we have a safe and secure and reliable stockpile. There’s no need to conduct underground [nuclear] testing." The 2009 study by JASON, an independent science panel, said the “lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence."
The system to detect nuclear test explosions has been researched and developed since the Eisenhower administration. These many years of experience offer a highly reliable system to detect secret nuclear tests. Any country that would attempt to evade detection would have to possess enormous technical expertise and spend high sums for what is really little gain.
An auxiliary seismic station in the Antarctic, part of an international monitoring system for detecting nuclear weapons test explosions. (CTBTO photo)
Resuming nuclear testing would be a politically disastrous move for the U.S. It could very well provoke increased nuclear weapons testing and development by Russia, China, and others. A new nuclear test would be an added expense to a country trying to save money. And if a resumption in nuclear testing sets off a new arms race, it could prove very costly in more ways than one.