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Re: [casi] House repeals research ban

Daagje Sander,




SECRECY NEWS - from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 100
November 12, 2003


The 2004 Defense Authorization Act, approved in a House-Senate
conference, includes several provisions that could lead to
development of new U.S. nuclear weapons.

The Act repeals a statutory ban on research and development of
low-yield nuclear weapons, authorizes continued research on the
"robust nuclear earth penetrator," and requires the Department of
Energy to achieve and maintain the ability to conduct an underground
nuclear explosive test within 18 months.

(Actual production, testing and deployment of a new nuclear weapon
would require further congressional authorization, however.)

Collectively, these steps "will greatly improve our ability to deter
a possible nuclear attack," said Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) on
November 11.

Not so, said Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).  The new moves are "inconsistent
with our longstanding commitment under the Nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty, and undermine our argument to other countries around the
world that they should not develop or test nuclear weapons," he

A painstakingly impartial account of the issues raised by the new
U.S. nuclear programs is presented by the Congressional Research
Service in "Nuclear Weapons Initiatives: Low-Yield R&D, Advanced
Concepts, Earth Penetrators, Test Readiness," 68 pages, October 28,

----- Original Message -----
From: "Sander Faas" <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, November 12, 2003 9:40 PM
Subject: [casi] House repeals research ban

[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ]

      Posted on Fri, Nov. 07, 2003

      House repeals research ban for some nuclear weapons
      By Jonathan S. Landay
      Knight Ridder Newspapers

      WASHINGTON - The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted
Friday to repeal a 10-year-old ban on researching low-power nuclear

      The Bush administration pushed for the legislation, arguing that the
United States must maintain the technology and skills needed to develop new
weapons to counter threats of chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.
Critics say it will undermine efforts to curb nuclear proliferation.

      The U.S. move to develop a possible new generation of nuclear weapons
comes as the Bush administration defends its decision to invade Iraq as
necessary in part to prevent deposed leader Saddam Hussein from obtaining
nuclear weapons.

      President Bush has insisted that he has no plans to build any new
nuclear weapons or end a 10-year U.S. moratorium on underground nuclear

      The repeal of the research ban was contained in a record $400 billion
defense authorization act for 2004 that the House passed Friday by a vote of
362-40. The bill is expected to win final approval next week in the GOP-run
Senate and then go to Bush for signing.

      The bill would provide U.S. nuclear laboratories with $6 million to
explore new nuclear bomb designs and $15 million to conduct a study of the
feasibility of modifying existing high-powered nuclear weapons to make a
warhead that could burrow deep into the Earth and destroy buried bunkers.

      It also would authorize spending $34 million to improve the Nevada
Test Site so that it could resume underground nuclear test explosions in 18
months rather than the 24 to 36 months it now needs.

      Critics charged the measures are a step toward resuming underground
test blasts and nuclear weapons production. The United States built its last
nuclear warhead in 1990.

      "We are on the slippery slope back to the dark days of bomb production
and testing," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control
Association, an advocacy group.

      He and other opponents warned that the measures would make the United
States less secure because foes such as North Korea and Iran, and potential
rivals, such as China, could respond by accelerating their nuclear weapons

      "I can only hope that it (the legislation) won't be perceived as a
step toward the development of new nuclear weapons," said Rep. John Spratt,
D-S.C., one of the two sponsors of the research ban.

      The bill lifted a decade-old ban prohibiting research and development
of nuclear warheads with explosive forces of less than 5 kilotons. (The bomb
dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945, was about 15 kilotons.) Such warheads
are known as low-yield weapons or "mini-nukes."

      Any decision to engineer and build a prototype would require
congressional approval.

      Administration officials contend that nuclear warheads in the U.S.
arsenal are unsuitable for use against growing numbers of deeply buried
bunkers or stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons. That's because they
could devastate civilian areas around the targets and release massive
amounts of lethal radioactivity.

      Low-yield warheads would cause far less damage to surrounding areas
and would not throw up massive amounts of radioactive fallout, they

      "We are seeking to free ourselves from intellectual prohibitions
against exploring a full range of technical options," Linton Brooks, head of
the Energy Department agency in charge of nuclear weapons, told a
congressional hearing in April.

      Bush's national security strategy sees low-yield weapons as possibly
playing key roles in deterring and pre-empting chemical and biological
attacks on the United States, its troops or its allies. U.S. foes would
worry that the United States would be more prepared to use nuclear weapons
of limited power than weapons than would cause huge civilian casualties and
release massive radioactive clouds.

      Opponents counter that it's technically impossible to build a nuclear
weapon that could penetrate through earth and rock and destroy deeply buried

      There are no materials that could penetrate more than 20 yards of
rock, and the massive clouds of radioactive dust thrown up by underground
explosions could kill large numbers of people, they said.

      Sidney Drell, a Stanford University physicist, contended in a March
article that "even a lower yield, 1-kiloton nuclear bomb detonated 20 to 50
feet underground would eject more than 1 million cubic feet of radioactive
debris, forming a crater about the size of Ground Zero at the World Trade

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