May 6, 2005

‘Nuclear Earth Penetrators’

By Martin Leatherman, Newsdesk.org

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty meeting at the U.N. this month has spurred contentious debate about America’s pursuit of new, smaller nuclear weapons.

The treaty was signed in 1968, and went into effect in 1970.

President George H.W. Bush enacted a moratorium on nuclear testing in 1992, but the current Bush presidency’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review paved the way for today’s efforts to fund new testing.

The president’s 2006 budget asks for $8.5 million — split between the departments of Energy and Defense — for research into a nuclear bunker buster.

Supporters say Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators would be useful in the war on terror against hardened targets such as bunkers or underground chemical weapons arsenals.

The intelligence community estimates that there are over 10,000 hardened bunkers worldwide.

On March 15 Senator Feinstein (D-Calif.) gave a speech on the Senate floor urging the administration to abandon RNEP development.

“Congress made a strong statement last year. We took out the appropriations for these new nuclear weapons,” Feinstein said, according to her website.

She expressed concern that smaller, so-called “battlefield nukes,” would make it easier for nuclear weapons to be used in general.

Critics say the development of these weapons undermines nuclear nonproliferation efforts worldwide.

Another contentious issue is whether earth-penetrating nuclear weapons could be used without large amounts of radioactive fallout.

The National Academy of Science reported last week that evidence shows smaller nuclear bombs cannot penetrate deep enough to limit casualties and prevent fallout.

The report found that the deeper the bunker, the bigger the bomb required to destroy it — and once a nuclear weapon is that large is detonated, it would fill the air with deadly fallout.

On May 1, ABC News reported that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked Congress to fund more studies on bunker-busting nuclear bombs.

He said they are necessary for getting at weapons of mass destruction hidden underground.

Knight Ridder newspapers reports that new bomb research is linked to upgrading existing nuclear weapons.

The United States wants to simultaneously reduce its stockpiles, while also updating old warheads for various reasons, including safety.

The average age of a U.S. nuclear warhead is twenty years old.

According to the Economist, the United States is a target of criticism at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty negotiations this week at U.N. headquarters in New York City.

The magazine reported that China’s chief delegate to the conference, Zhang Yan, implicitly criticized the United States for “lowering the threshold of using nuclear weapons, reach and developing new types of nuclear weapons.”

On May 5, the Associated Press reported that the U.N. meeting started without the parties agreeing on an agenda, which may complicate progress.

Non-nuclear countries are expected to raise concerns about the U.S. developing new bombs while simultaneously asking other countries to abandon their programs.

According to the Newsday.com, the United States rejected a request by non-nuclear powers to include an agreement never to use nuclear weapons in the treaty.

Such nations say this would go a long way to stop proliferation.

The U.S. disagreed, saying the threat of terrorism justifies the American position that nuclear weapons are necessary.

According to article, the American spokesman Richard Grenell said, “We want to be creative with the tools we have at our disposal.”

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Keyword search (nuclear earth penetrator): Google News, Yahoo News
Keyword search (nuclear nonproliferation): Google News, Yahoo News

“Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons”
Signed in Washington, London & Moscow, 1968

“2005 review conference of the parties to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons”
United Nations, May 2-27, 2005

“Bush’s curious timing”
Defense News, January 22, 2002

“U.S. Department of Energy 2006 Budget Request” (PDF)

“Budget of the United States of America”
White House Web site

“Senator Feinstein urges Congress not to open door to new nuclear development”
Senate Web site, March 16, 2005

“Summary — Effects of nuclear earth penetrator and other weapons”
National Academies Press, 2005

“Rumsfeld asks Congress to fund nuclear bomb study”
ABC News, May 1, 2005

“Bush pushing bunker busters”
Knight Ridder Newspapers, April 10, 2005

“A crisis of compliance”
The Economist, May 4 2005

“U.S., others haggle over nuclear agenda”
Associated Press, May 5 2005

“U.S. rejects idea of ban on nuclear attacks”
Newsday, May 5 2005

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