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Test Ban: Do It Now

The nuclear-weapons age turns 51 this summer. The quest to ban all nuclear tests has been under way for 42 of those years.

The first step - barring tests in air, in space, and under water - was signed 33 years ago. Now is the time to finish that work by agreeing to a total ban with tight inspection control.

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This week the 37-nation Conference on Disarmament resumes that work in Geneva. Its task: to iron out remaining differences among the five "nuclear club" members (US, Britain, France, Russia, China), the three undeclared nuclear states (Israel, India, Pakistan), and such wannabes as Iran.

The time is ripe. France has ended its controversial tests. China is trying to sell "peaceful" tests (a doubtful distinction), but will likely back down. India has finished its election, ending an excuse for decision delay. Russia's Boris Yeltsin has agreed, and the moment should be seized while he holds power. And last year 178 nations indefinitely extended the treaty banning the spread of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear genie isn't back in the bottle. But the human race will benefit if this threat is further manacled by a well-monitored total test ban.

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