Open Letter to Science Magazine

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Uphold the nuclear weapons test moratorium


The Trump administration is considering renewing nuclear weapons testing (1), a move that could increase the risk of another nuclear arms race as well as an inadvertent or intentional nuclear war. Following in the long tradition of scientists opposing nuclear weapons due to their harmful effects on both humanity and the planet (2), we ask the U.S. government to desist from plans to conduct nuclear tests.

During the Cold War, the United States conducted 1030 nuclear weapons tests, more than all other nuclear-armed nations combined (3). In 1996, the United States signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), agreeing not to conduct a nuclear weapons test of any yield (4). The United States has not yet ratified the CTBT but did spearhead the 2016 adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2310, which calls upon all countries to uphold the object and purpose of the CTBT by not conducting nuclear tests (5).

Eight of the nine nuclear-armed states, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, have observed a moratorium on nuclear testing since 1998 (3, 4). The ninth, North Korea, responding to international pressure, stopped testing warhead detonations (as opposed to missile flights) in 2017 (6). If the United States rati- fied the CTBT, joining the 168 countries who have already done so (4), there is a good chance that the other holdout countries would ratify the treaty as well (7).

In contrast, restarting U.S. nuclear weapons tests of any size, underground or aboveground, would give license to other countries, such as North Korea, India, and Pakistan, to resume testing. If the tests are underground, radioactive materials could leak into the local environment, including water supplies (8); if in the atmosphere, which is currently prohibited by the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (9), such tests would spread radioactivity, sometimes very widely (8). Once the United States breaches the treaty, there will be no way to prevent other nations from carrying out tests of larger warheads or to control leaks into the environment and atmosphere. Even a “limited” nuclear exchange between nuclear-armed nations can cause untold local death and destruction, as well as global climate and agricultural catastrophes stem- ming from the climate impacts of smoke from fires ignited by nuclear weapons (10).

The current U.S. arsenal includes thousands of warheads, together capable of obliterating every major city in any country on Earth. Yet the United States has embarked on a $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons enhancement program (11), of which the proposed testing would be one small—but dangerous—component. All nations, including the United States, should continue to reduce the number of nuclear warheads in the world’s arsenals, not increase their efficacy or develop more lethal versions. Senator Edward Markey and Senate colleagues recently announced the Preserving Leadership Against Nuclear Explosives Testing (PLANET) Act, which would deny funding for and thereby pre- vent the renewal of testing (12). We urge the Senate to pass this bill and to ratify the CTBT immediately.

Jonathan King*, Martin Chalfie, Noam Chomsky, Joseph Cirincione, Sean Decatur, Melissa Franklin, Joseph Gerson, David P. Goldenberg, Gary Goldstein, William Hartung, Ira Helfand, Daniel Holz, Peter C. Kahn, Sheldon Krimsky, Edward Loechler, Val Moghadam, Stuart A. Newman, David Ozonoff, Prasannan Parthasarathi, William Phillips, H. David Politzer, Robert P. Redwine, Richard J. Roberts, Alan Robock, Catherine Ann Royer, Suzanne Scarlata, Elaine Scarry, George F. Smoot, Robert Socolow, Susan Solomon, Andrew Strominger, Eric J. Sundberg, Mriganka Sur, Max Tegmark, John F. Tierney, Cornelia van der Ziel, Michael VanElzakker, Frank N. von Hippel, Lawrence Wittner, Henry H. Wortis *Corresponding author. Email:

The full author affiliations are available online.


1. J.Hudson,P.Sonne,“Trumpadministrationdiscussed conducting first U.S. nuclear test in decades,” The Washington Post (2020).

2. J.C.Jolly,Endeavor26,149(2002).

3. ArmsControlAssociation,TheNuclearTestingTally (2019); .

4. ComprehensiveNuclearTestBanTreaty(CTBT)(2020); .

5. Arms Control Association, UN Security Council Backs CTBT (2016); .

6. ArmsControlAssociation,ChronologyofU.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy (2020); .

7. D.Choubey,“TheCTBT’simportanceforU.S.national security” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2009).

8. Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, General Overview of the Effects of Nuclear Testing ( ).

9. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ( ).

10. A. Witze, Nature 579, 485 (2020).

11. Arms Control Association, U.S. Nuclear Modernization Programs (2018); .

12. Ed Markey, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, “Senator Markey, Senate colleagues announce legislation to prohibit restart of U.S. nuclear weapons testing” (2020).


D.H., R.S., and S. Solomon are members (in an unpaid advisory capacity) of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. J.F.T. is affiliated with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.


Author affiliations

DOI: 10.1126/science.abd3313

262 17 JULY 2020 • VOL 369 ISSUE 6501 SCIENCE

Published by AAAS

Co-authors and Signatories: The US Must Not Break the Nuclear Weapons Test Moratorium (17 July 2020 Science Magazine).
(Affiliation for identification only)

Tamar Barkay (Professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Dorothy Beckett (Prof. of Biochemistry, University of Maryland, College Park, MD).
Patrick Brown (MIT Energy Initiative, Cambridge, MA).
Jean Bele (Professor of Nuclear Physics, MIT, Cambridge, MA).
Lea Bele (Boston University, Boston, MA).
María G Dominguez Bello (Dept. of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Robert Boikess (Professor of Chemistry, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
John Brennan (Professor of Chemistry, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Edward W. Castner, Jr. (Professor of Chemistry, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Martin Chalfie (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2008, University Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University NY) .
Noam Chomsky (Institute Professor Emeritus MIT; Professor of Linguistics, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ).
Joseph Cirincione (Past President, Ploughshares Fund, Washington, DC).
Ben Cohen (Co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream).
Sean Decatur (President, Kenyon College, Gambier, OH).
Gerard Charles Dismukes (Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ).
Jonathan Mboyo Esole (Asst. Professor of Mathematics, Northeastern Univ., Boston, MA).
Melissa Franklin (Mallinckdrodt Professor of Physics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA).
Jerome Friedman (Nobel Prize in Physics 1990, Prof of physics, MIT, Cambridge, MA).
Sheldon Lee Glashow (Nobel Prize in Physics 1979, Metcalf Prof. of Mathematics and Physics, Boston University, Boston, MA).
David P. Goldenberg (Professor of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT).
Gary Goldstein (Professor of Physics, Tufts University, Medford, MA).
Urszula Golebiewska (Assoc. Prof. of Biology, Queensborough Community College, CUNY).
Jerry Greenfield (Co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream).
Max Haggblom (Distinguished Professor of Environmental and Applied Microbiology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ).
David Haig (George Putnam Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA).
Bertrand I Halperin (Hollis Professor of Mathematics, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA).
Ira Helfand, MD (Member International Steering Group, ICAN, the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize).
Gregory Herzog (Professor of Chemistry, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Daniel Holz (Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL).
Michael Hynes (Dept of Nuclear Engineering, MIT, Cambridge, MA).
Peter C. Kahn (Professor of Biochemistry, Department of Biochemistry & Microbiology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ).
Jonathan King (Professor of Molecular Biology, MIT, Cambridge, MA).
Sheldon Krimsky (Lenore Stern Professor of Humanities & Social Sciences; Adjunct Professor Public Health & Community Medicine, Tufts University, Medford, MA).
Zia Mian (Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ).
Stuart A. Newman (Professor of Cell Biology & Anatomy, New York Medical College, Valhalla, NY).
Karen Oates (Dean of Arts and Sciences, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA).
Peter Pesic (Director of the Science Institute, St. Johns College, Santa Fe, NM).
Donald Pfister (Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA).
Prasannan Parthasarathi (Professor of History, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA).
Jana Pika (Director of Innovation, Firmenich Inc, Princeton, NJ).
William Phillips (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1997, College Park, MD).
George Pieczenik (Professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Steven Pinker (Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA).
Stewart Prager (Professor of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ).
Lisa Randall (Frank. B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA).
Padmini Rangamani (Dept. of Bioengineering, Univ. of California, San Diego, CA).
Robert P. Redwine (Professor of Physics, MIT, Cambridge, MA).
Jacques Y. Roberge (Director, Molecular Design and Synthesis, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Mary F. Roberts (Professor of Chemistry, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA).
Sir Richard J. Roberts Ph.D. F.R.S. (1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Chief Scientific Officer, New England Biolabs, Ipswich, MA).
Alan Robock, (Distinguished Professor of Climate Science, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Heinz D. Roth (Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Catherine Ann Royer (Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY).
Suzanne Scarlata (Whitcomb Chair of Biochemistry, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA).
Elaine Scarry (Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the Theory of Value, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA).
Daniel L. Schacter (Professor of Psychology, Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA).
Troy Shinbrot (Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Susan Solomon (Martin Professor of Environmental Studies, MIT, Cambridge, MA).
Andrew Strominger (Gwill E. York Professor of Physics, Harvard University, Cambridge MA).
Eric J. Sundberg, (Professor and Chair of Biochemistry, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA).
Robert Socolow (Professor emeritus, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Princeton Univ., Princeton, NJ).
George F. Smoot III, 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics, Helmut and Anna Pao Sohmen Professor at Large, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Mriganka Sur (Professor of Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA).
John W. Taylor (Assoc. Prof. of Chemistry, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
John F. Tierney (Executive Director, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and of Council for a Livable World, Washington, D.C).
Cornelia van der Ziel MD (Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility).
Michael VanElzakker (Research Fellow, Neurotherapeutics Division, Massachusetts General Hospital & Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA).
Frank N. von Hippel (Professor of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ).
Kate Waldie (Asst. Professor of Chemistry, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Lawrence Williams (Professor of Chemistry, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ).
Henry H. Wortis, MD, Professor of Immunology, Tufts Univ. School of Medicine, Boston, MA).