Nuclear Testing

(Adopted by Council on April 04, 2003)

The American Physical Society, reaffirms its April 1997 statement that "fully informed technical studies have concluded continued testing is not required to retain confidence in the safety and reliability of the remaining nuclear weapons in the United States' stockpile." Resumption of nuclear testing may have serious negative international consequences, particularly on the nonproliferation regime. In addition the Society strongly urges the Congress and the Administration to provide sufficient notification and justification for any proposed nuclear test to allow adequate time for informed and thorough analysis and public discussion.

The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since 1992. In 1995, the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom agreed to pursue a permanent ban on such tests, in order to achieve an indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Maintaining the integrity of the NPT, under which 183 countries have promised not to acquire nuclear weapons, is a vital element in uniting the world in an effort to contain and reduce the nuclear danger, including current international efforts to pressure North Korea and Iraq to live up to their nonproliferation commitments.

There is renewed debate in the United States about the possibility of resumed nuclear weapon testing. The Department of Defense's 2002 Nuclear Posture Review stated that the United States might need to resume testing and recommended increasing U.S. readiness to do so, citing concerns about maintaining the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile without nuclear testing. The Foster Panel, created by Congress in 1998, has expressed similar concerns. On the other hand, the directors of the U.S. nuclear-weapon laboratories and the Commander in Chief of the Strategic Command have instituted rigorous annual reviews of the safety and reliability of each nuclear weapon type and each year have certified that the U.S. stockpile is safe and reliable. The Department of Energy's Stockpile Stewardship Program has been repeatedly reviewed by expert panels and by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences in 2002, which concluded that "the United States has the technical capabilities to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of its existing nuclear-weapon stockpile" without nuclear testing, "provided that adequate resources are made available to the Department of Energy's nuclear-weapon complex and are properly focused on this task."