The Senate voted Friday for preparations for low-yield nuclear tests that opponents said would be a dangerous and provocative signal that the United States was not willing to end all nuclear testing.
The Senate rejected 56-44 an effort to remove from a $265 billion defense bill $50 million for preparation for hydronuclear experiment tests at the Nevada nuclear test site.Supporters of the tests said they would use nuclear explosives of the equivalent of four pounds or less of TNT, which has been the U.S. position on the maximum that should be allowed under an international Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
They said the tests, which are designed to test whether an accident such as dropping a nuclear weapon could cause it to explode, are needed to assure that U.S. nuclear weapons are safe and reliable.
"To compare four pounds to what the French and Chinese are doing (in nuclear tests) is beyond my ability to comprehend," said Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
But opponents said the tests could be of nuclear explosives up to the equivalent of 20 tons of TNT and said even small tests would show the world that the United States was unwilling to end all nuclear testing.
Sen. James Exon, a Nebraska Democrat, said they would be a step toward U.S. resumption of full-scale nuclear testing and would kill efforts to reach international approval next year on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
"We would be no different from the French in their decision to test, an object of worldwide ridicule and derision," Exon said, referring to France's announcement that it will resume nuclear testing.
Sen. Mark Hatfield, an Oregon Republican and author of the present U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing, called the possible tests a "dangerous and provocative" signal.