EDITORIAL:

President’s nuclear fantasy threatens Nevadans’ health, national security

Blocking President Donald Trump from nuking Nevada or dumping radioactive materials here is an unpleasant task that rears its head with annoying regularity. It’s like scraping irradiated gum off the bottom of your shoe.

So here’s a show of respect and gratitude to Nevadans who are safeguarding the state.

That includes Rep. Dina Titus, who last week introduced a bill aimed at stopping Trump from conducting nuclear bomb tests at the Nevada National Security Site. Titus and Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford, who co-sponsored the bill, jumped into action after The Washington Post reported this month that senior officials in the Trump administration had dusted off the idea of live testing, an insane plan that had first been reported in 2018 but then seemingly vanished.

The bill would circumvent testing by denying federal funding for it. As Titus explained, targeting the funding was the most effective approach due to the Trump administration’s opposition to ratifying an international nuclear testing ban that was adopted by the United Nations but remains unratified by the U.S. and seven other countries — China, Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

The lack of a treaty leaves Nevada vulnerable to testing, since the federal government owns and operates the security site. And Trump apparently believes that blowing up a bomb here would give the U.S. a stronger hand in negotiations with China and Russia on national security. In other words, Nevadans would be used as pawns in geopolitical saber-rattling.

The bill is a responsible piece of legislation. Resuming nuclear bomb testing is a slice of Dr. Strangelove-esque lunacy that would ratchet up tensions between nuclear nations and for no good reason. Due to technological advances, live testing is no longer needed to ensure that nuclear stockpiles are effective and secure. 

Experts like Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, say Trump is off the rails.

“That’s completely nuts,” Kristensen told The Guardian. “They must be getting desperate. Instead, what it certainly would do is push China and all the other nuclear-armed states to test as well. How can someone in their right mind think that would be in the security interest of the United States or its allies?”

For Nevadans and downwinders, testing poses unacceptable health and environmental dangers. We sacrificed more than enough during the decades of testing here, when more than 1,000 bombs were exploded at the test site, just 60 miles north of Las Vegas.

Nevada shouldn’t have to endure more punishment just so the always insecure Trump can seem like a tough guy.

As the bill begins its way through Congress, Southern Nevada’s delegation sent Trump and federal officials a letter expressing opposition to testing.

“Not only would such an action compromise the health and safety of Nevadans, degrade vital water resources and harm the surrounding environment, but it would also undermine future stockpile stewardship efforts, undercut our nuclear nonproliferation goals and further weaken strategic partnerships with our global allies,” read the letter, signed by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, along with Titus, Horsford and Rep. Susie Lee.

While the delegation fights off the nuclear test, a group of Native American leaders, environmentalists and outdoor-recreation advocates recently won a preliminary battle in its efforts to block a massive expansion of the bombing range at Naval Air Base Fallon in central Nevada.

Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee shot down the proposed expansion by writing it out of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Although the committee’s version of the NDAA isn’t final, the Senate leaders’ opposition to the plan is encouraging.

The plan is horrific for Nevada, and is supported by Nevada’s lone Republican congressional delegate, Mark Amodei, who would rather grovel before national GOP leaders than defend the interests of his constituents. It would serve up more than 600,000 acres of public land for bombing and other training purposes, causing a harmful impact on the environment and ancestral Native American lands. It also contains land conveyance provisions that would allow vast amounts of public lands to be developed for residential, industrial and commercial purposes.

Combined with the existing acreage on the base, the expansion would permit bombing on about 750,000 acres. While the Navy says more space is needed due to technological advances that allow weapons to be deployed from increasingly long distances, the expansion is too much to ask from Nevada. Kudos to those fighting this overreach.

Nevadans must defend ourselves from a president who clearly loathes our state and thinks we’re only good as a dumping ground for his bad ideas and worst impulses, starting with the administration’s push for the resurrection of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. No sooner had that effort been snuffed out than the Defense Department secretly sent a shipment of highly radioactive plutonium to the state, forcing Nevada leaders to go to court in hopes of getting it removed and preventing future dark-of-night incursions.

With at least six months remaining in Trump’s presidency, Nevada must keep watching the radar closely. But the vigilance of our leadership — and by that we mean not only in Washington and Carson City but in Native American communities and advocacy organizations — has been commendable.