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No need for nuclear weapons testing any longer

By Trisha S. Beck

Published: Wednesday, April 11 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivers a speech during a ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, CTBTO, in Vienna, Austria, on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012.

Hans Punz, Associated Press

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Recently, the National Academy of the Sciences released a new report that may close the door on a tragic, 60-year chapter of Utah's history. The report, a review of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, found that there's absolutely no need for the United States to resume nuclear weapons testing.

That news from Washington resonates the most here in Utah, where thousands of residents were made sick by past nuclear weapons testing in Nevada.

Years ago, I visited a friend in treatment at the University of Utah Hospital. She told me of her childhood in Cedar City, and how she would sit with her family on the hillside and watch the bombs explode at the Nevada test site. Eventually, both she and her father passed away from diseases caused by exposure to the tests' radioactive fallout. Her brother was later diagnosed with throat and stomach cancer requiring him to receive his nourishment through a feeding tube.

In 1997, another friend, Rep. Kurt Oscarson, passed away from leukemia. He, too, was a downwinder, having grown up in Marysville. I was subsequently appointed to his seat in the Utah Legislature. In Utah, losing friends of a certain generation so regularly is not an uncommon story.

The U.S. conducted more than 1,000 nuclear weapons tests, most of them at the Nevada test site. Thousands of people were affected. Many suffered and eventually died simply because they were near the test site. At the time, we did not know all that much about testing nuclear weapons. We believed testing was both necessary and safe. Thankfully, and with the help of the National Academy of the Sciences report, we now know that there's no technical or military rationale for resumed nuclear weapons testing.

Utah has suffered the effects of nuclear weapons testing more than any other state in the nation. We know that preventing nuclear weapons testing in the future is the best way of memorializing those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the past.

Fortunately, Utah is not alone in supporting the Test Ban Treaty. There are many who support the treaty for another reason: It would increase our nation's security.

The Test Ban Treaty is supported by cold warriors such as George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Robert Gates, Gen. Brent Scowcroft and former Sen. Jake Garn. While our nuclear arsenal continues to be tested in national laboratories, we haven't needed to set off a nuclear test explosion in 20 years. And now, thanks to the National Academy of the Sciences report, we know there's no need to conduct future tests.

Since there is no need for the U.S. to test, we must work to ensure that no other nation is testing its weapons. Resumed nuclear testing by China, Russia, Iran or Pakistan would severely set back global stability and risk touching off a new and even less stable cold war. U.S. ratification of the Test Ban Treaty — which is supported by everyone of our NATO allies — would be a significant step toward limiting global nuclear threats.

Now is the time to act; the time to permanently ban nuclear weapons testing. The list of nations who have yet to ratify the Test Ban Treaty — China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan — sadly also includes the United States. It's time we demonstrate that we stand on the side of limiting nuclear threats. It's time we show global leadership, stand up proudly and honor those who gave their lives. It's time to pass the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Trisha S. Beck represented District 48 in the Utah House of Representatives from 1997 to 2002 and again from 2009 to 2010.

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