Portland Press Herald
September 29, 1997


It cannot be good for the planet to be setting off hydrogen bombs in the Earth's crust. Nor can it be good for humankind to have nations toying with nuclear arsenals.

The world has a chance before the close of this century to do something extraordinary about this practice. It can ban nuclear testing under a treaty signed a year ago.

An important step in that process is ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Senate. President Clinton is preparing to submit the accord to the Senate, which should move quickly to approve it.

The treaty would outlaw setting off nuclear weapons. Its obvious benefit would be to reduce the potential for an accident that could kill millions. In addition, it would lessen the risk that radiation from nuclear tests will find its way to the surface.

The test-ban treaty would also serve as an important curb on nuclear proliferation. It would be harder for nations to develop and deploy nuclear weapons with a test ban in place.

Opponents of the ban worry that the difficulties posed by it when developing nuclear arsenals would harm the strategic position of the United States.

Some day we hope that argument can be rendered moot by the elimination of all nuclear weapons, but in the meantime it remains a concern.

That concern is a minor one, however, because the alternative to testing nuclear weapons is to use technology that would give a decisive edge to the United States. In a world without nuclear tests, supercomputers would be used to predict how the weapons would behave once they were set off.

The Clinton administration has put together a $ 4.5 billion plan for creating the computer models and laboratories needed to replace nuclear testing.

Given this nation's technological edge and its resources, a ban on nuclear testing is not likely to harm the strategic position of the United States and may, in fact, enhance it.

Though signed by 146 nations, the test-ban treaty is still a fragile thing. There is evidence that Russia has yet to live up to its pledge to abide by the treaty prior to its formal ratification. Some nations, most notably India and Pakistan, have openly expressed reservations about ratifying it.

Leadership from the United States on this issue, then, is critical. The Senate should provide that leadership and ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.