WASHINGTON, D.C.--Several groups of U.S. scientists, including 32 Nobel Prize winners in physics, spoke out today on behalf of an international treaty that would ban all testing of nuclear weapons. They gave their support to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which could come up for a hastily scheduled vote in the Senate as early as next week.
Negotiated in the mid-1990s, the treaty has been endorsed tentatively by 152 heads of state, including President Bill Clinton. But for 2 years, it has languished without debate in the U.S. Senate, which must ratify or reject it. On 1 October, Republican leaders placed the treaty on an accelerated schedule for a vote by 14 October, saying they hoped to defeat it because they question whether it can be adequately enforced. Treaty supporters responded with alacrity.
Charles Townes, the University of California, Berkeley, physicist who co-invented the laser, spoke for the physics Nobelists at a public meeting at the White House this afternoon. Standing with Clinton and other dignitaries before the news cameras, Townes pointed out that both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (publisher of ScienceNOW) and the American Physical Society have given the CTBT their vote of confidence. Townes also quoted from the Nobelists' letter, released today, which says, "It is imperative that the CTBT be ratified" in order to "halt the spread of nuclear weapons."
The test ban treaty also got a boost today in an unprecedented joint statement issued by two scientific societies--the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Seismological Society of America (SSA). Members of a joint AGU-SSA policy committee held a press conference at AGU headquarters here to spell out their technical reasons for thinking the treaty would improve national security. AGU policy committee member Gregory van der Vink noted that three overlapping monitoring systems--a network of sensors established under the treaty, various national surveillance systems, and private research teams--all will be available to keep tabs on potential violations of the testing ban.
The Clinton Administration plans a heavy lobbying campaign this week to try to sway Senate votes in favor CTBT, and endorsements by these scientific groups are likely to be cited often. However, political observers say its possible that the Senate may reconsider its plan and indefinitely postpone the vote scheduled for next week.