Former and current Utah Congressmen: Say no to nuclear testing

Jul 23, 2020, 3:32 PM

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Warning sign outside Trinity Site - White Sands Missile Range New Mexico - location of first nuclear test. Photo: Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY — The US Senate is ready to restart nuclear weapons testing, but both a current and a former Utah congressman say the testing is still not safe.

The House recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act along with an amendment by Utah Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams that would block funding to restart nuclear weapons testing in the United States.

McAdams’ amendment was adopted along a mostly party-line vote of 227-179.

The Senate version of the NDAA includes $10 million to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 1992. 

Nuclear testing

“Explosive nuclear testing causes irreparable harm to human health and to our environment, and jeopardizes the U.S. leadership role on nuclear nonproliferation,” McAdams said Monday in the House.

McAdams joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to discuss his amendment on blocking funding for nuclear testing.

“Utah has been devastated from nuclear weapons testing for decades. The federal government lied to us. They told us it was safe, that there would be no harm that would come from this testing. Then so many people across our state developed cancer and other issues related to that testing, so we were lied to for years by our federal government,” McAdams said.

On to the Senate

“Next step is the Senate. It passed in the House, nearly a party line vote. You think that this amendment of yours will survive the Senate vote?” Lee asked.

“There’s support in the Senate. We will have to see if it’s enough to get it through,” McAdams said. He mentioned the $10 million appropriation in the Senate to start preparing sites for future testing.

“I’m very concerned about that appropriation that’s trying to tee up more testing,” McAdams said.

“If we are able to overcome the challenges and unfortunate realities that impacted so many of those Downwinders families, why move forward with this [amendment] now?” Lee asked.

“I’m not at all convinced that we have overcome some of those risks. Bombs have only gotten bigger, and the desire to test them has only gotten larger,” McAdams said. “I’m really worried about what impact that might have on the state. There are some things you can do today that my bill will not prohibit, and that is computer modeling of testing. I think it’s important that we continue to certify the safety and effectiveness of our current weapons, which my bill doesn’t prohibit. We can maintain our national security by doing that without putting future Utahns’ lives at risk.”

Former Utah Rep. Jim Matheson

Former Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, also a Democrat, lost his father, former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson, to cancer blamed on living downwind from the Nevada Test Site where atomic tests were conducted in the 1950 and 1960s.

“This is an issue that obviously affected my family in a significant way — my extended family, let alone my own father, who was a Downwinder,” Matheson said. 

While serving in Congress, Matheson said his efforts on nuclear weapons testing were focused on whether it was safe to conduct weapons tests. He said he introduced legislation that said the testing couldn’t move forward without the equivalent of an environmental impact statement to assess all the risks and prove that it’s safe to test.

“The folks who were trying to move ahead with testing didn’t like that idea at all,” Matheson said. “It wasn’t safe when it was above ground and it wasn’t safe when it was below ground. It’s still not safe today.”

Cause for alarm

“Technology has not advanced to the point where you can be satisfied with the assertions of these testers, essentially that tests of this nature are safe,” Lee said.

“Absolutely not,” Matheson replied. “They have no justification for even saying that.”

 If proponents wish to proceed, the former congressman called for a transparent, public process to assess all the risks of nuclear weapons testing.

“The facts will speak for themselves,” he said.

He said the $10 million appropriation in the Senate NDAA bill to start preparing sites for testing “should be a cause for alarm for all of us.”

“My gosh, we had the government lie to us here in Utah way back when. They told us it was safe. They knew it wasn’t,” he said.

Matheson said the government only did the testing when the wind blew the fallout in the least populated direction, which was southern Utah. He added that declassified documents referred to people living in southern Utah as a low-use segment of the nation’s population.

“Let’s not tuck $10 million into a defense bill in the Senate and say let’s get the site ready without any process to determine if it’s safe or not, without any public effort to reevaluate the risk associated with this. This doesn’t sound right to me. This doesn’t pass the smell test,” Matheson said. 

“Technology has not changed. Fallout is fallout. Wherever the wind blows it, it will pose a threat to all those who encounter it,” Lee said.


Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

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Former and current Utah Congressmen: Say no to nuclear testing