Test-ban treaty 'scientifically sound'

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Thursday, August 08, 2002 at 12:21PM :

Nature 418, 573 (8 August 2002)

Test-ban treaty 'scientifically sound'


[WASHINGTON] The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), rejected by the Senate nearly three years ago, has been pronounced technically sound by a panel of leading US scientists.

The treaty, which aims to prohibit nuclear testing worldwide, was signed by then president Bill Clinton in 1996, but the Senate voted against its ratification in October 1999.

Opponents of the CTBT including leading members of the Bush administration have argued that the treaty's terms would not allow the United States to detect testing abroad, and that adherence to it would threaten the country's own nuclear capability. Some want the administration to withdraw its signature from the unratified treaty.

But in a study released on 31 July, the National Academy of Sciences takes issue with these arguments. John Holdren, director of a science, technology and public-policy programme at Harvard University, and the chairman of the committee that drafted the report, says that using the monitoring system stipulated by the treaty, the United States would be able to detect tests as low as 1 or 2 kilotons virtually anywhere on Earth or in space. Attempts to mask a blast would fail unless the country had extensive previous testing experience. And such countries, including Russia and China, would have little to gain from low-yield, clandestine testing, he claims.

The study also finds that the United States could maintain its own stockpile of nuclear weapons indefinitely without further testing.

"This is the most authoritative and detailed assessment of the test-ban treaty to date," says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which advocates ratification of the test ban. "It should give the Bush administration reason to reconsider its fundamental points of contention on the CTBT."

But Ivan Eland, director of defence policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, doubts whether it will have much impact on administration policy. "To me, it doesn't make sense to sign up for a treaty if you might have to test new weapons," he says.

The Bush administration opposes ratification of the treaty, but it continues to observe the US moratorium on testing that was begun in 1992.

Nature Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2002 Registered No. 785998 England.

-- Lilly
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