BBC News Online – 2005-04-29 09:04:19
US Proposes Selling Bunker Bombs to Israel
BBC News Online
LONDON (April 28, 2005) — The US government is proposing a $30 million deal selling up to 100 laser-guided bunker-busting bombs to Israel. The GBU-28 is a 2,000-kg conventional weapon with a powerful warhead that can burrow through six metres (20 feet) of concrete or 30 metres of earth.
The sale has gone ahead despite concern that Israel might use the weapon for a unilateral attack against Iran.
Congress has 30 days to reject planned foreign military sales, but correspondents say it rarely does so.
Israel – assumed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state – says it is not planning a military strike against the Islamic republic. However, the bombs are to be fitted on its F-15 fighter jets, which would put Iran within range.
Some analysts say the deal may be intended by Washington to back up with a bit of military muscle European diplomatic efforts to avert the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Talks between the Europeans and Iran are deadlocked over Tehran’s refusal to give up uranium enrichment which could be used for arms production.
The US has accused Iran of using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
‘Bunker Buster’ Casualty Risk Cited
Ann Scott Tyson / Washington Post
(April 28, 2005) — Earth-penetrating nuclear bombs would be capable of destroying military targets deep underground, but not without inflicting “massive casualties at ground level,” according to a congressionally mandated study released yesterday.
The study’s findings reflect a growing scientific consensus that even relatively small nuclear “bunker-buster” weapons — under study by the Bush administration but strongly opposed by some members of Congress and arms-control advocates — could not be used without a high cost in human life. Such a bomb could cause more than a million deaths, depending on the yield, the report said.
“You can use a much smaller weapon if you use an earth penetrator, maybe 20 times smaller, but you will kill a lot of people, because it puts out a huge amount of radioactive debris,” said John F. Ahearne, chairman of the Committee on the Effects of Nuclear Earth-Penetrator and Other Weapons of the National Research Council, which produced the report. The council, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, advises the federal government on science and technology.
The study represents an authoritative finding amid a long-standing conflict over whether it is possible to design an earth-penetrating nuclear bomb that would destroy deeply buried targets without killing people aboveground.
The report found that casualties from an earth-penetrator weapon “would be equal to that from a surface burst of the same weapon yield,” causing from thousands to more than a million deaths in an urban area, and hundreds to hundreds of thousands in lightly populated areas with unfavorable winds.
In its fiscal 2003 Defense Authorization Act, Congress directed the Pentagon to request the study to examine the health and environmental effects of the bombs.
The Bush administration this spring renewed its push for $8.5 million in funding to resume Pentagon and Energy Department studies of bunker-buster nuclear warheads. Congress killed funding for the study last year, and lawmakers indicated this year they will again question the request.
On Capitol Hill yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld faced incredulity from at least one senator on why the administration is pursuing the weapons.
“It is beyond me as to why you’re proceeding with this program when the laws of physics won’t allow a missile to be driven deeply enough to retain the fallout, which will spew in hundreds of millions of cubic feet if it’s at 100 kilotons,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a subcommittee hearing of the Appropriations Committee.
Rumsfeld replied that 70 countries are pursuing “activities underground” using technology that allows them to burrow into solid rock the length of a basketball court in a single day.
“At the present time, we don’t have a capability of dealing with that. We can’t go in there and get at things in solid rock underground,” he said. “The only thing we have is very large, very dirty, big nuclear weapons. So . . . do we want to have nothing and only a large, dirty nuclear weapon, or would we rather have something in between?”
The Pentagon estimates there are 10,000 hardened targets — above and below ground — in the territory of potential adversaries. About 20 percent have a “major strategic function” such as housing command-and-control systems or weapons stockpiles, and of that 20 percent, half are near or in urban areas.
The study found that nuclear weapons, if aimed accurately, would be more effective than conventional bombs in destroying hard and deeply buried targets. Such nuclear weapons could work with a yield one-fifteenth to one-twenty-fifth as large if they are detonated a few yards below the earth’s surface, causing a shock wave that could destroy bunkers hundreds of yards below.
Bush Plans New Nuclear Weapons
Paul Harris / The (London) Observer
NEW YORK (November 30, 2003) — The United States is embarking on a multimillion-dollar expansion of its nuclear arsenal, prompting fears it may lead the world into a new arms race.
The Bush administration is pushing ahead with the development of a new generation of weapons, dubbed ‘mini-nukes’, that use nuclear warheads to penetrate underground bunkers.
Last week, it gave a quiet yet final go-ahead to a controversial research project into the bunker-buster. The move effectively ends a 10-year ban on research into ‘low-yield’ nuclear weapons. Critics fear it may lead other countries to push ahead with developing such weapons. It also comes at a highly sensitive time diplomatically, with the US lobbying countries such as Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear plans.
‘The United States is spurring a new global arms race with our own development of a new generation of nuclear weapons,’ said Democrat Ellen Tauscher, who led an unsuccessful bid in Congress to have the program scrapped.
The new warheads are designed to use shockwaves to destroy deep bunkers even if the bomb does not reach them. Experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has shown army planners that bunkers are being built deeper and more securely. ‘We have to be able to match our capability to our potential targets,’ one White House official said.
But critics say the weapons won’t work and doubt claims that the radiation will remain underground.
The US Army plans to convert two existing nuclear bombs – the B61 and B83. The B61 can be dropped by B-52 bombers or F-16 jets. The larger B83 has explosive yields of one to two megatons. Research will focus on hardening the bomb casings so they can penetrate layers of steel, rock and concrete.
Anti-nuclear campaigners say the B83’s large size makes its classification as a ‘mini-nuke’ debatable. ‘The powers that be describe them as low-yield weapons. But that is far from the case,’ said Jay Coghlan, director of Nukewatch.
Critics also question the wisdom of developing such weapons and say America’s willingness to deploy them will blur the distinction between nuclear war and conventional conflict. Bob Schaeffer, of the Anti-Nuclear Alliance, said: ‘It is dangerous and provocative. It is like a drunk preaching temperance to everyone else at the bar, while ordering another round.’
Leading Democrats contend that the development of the bunker-buster is part of a broader re-evaluation of America’s nuclear arsenal by George Bush’s administration. They point to signs that nuclear weapons are being given a prominent role in the post-Cold War world, at a time when many others see them as obsolete. ‘This White House has a dramatically different view of nuclear weapons compared with previous administrations,’ said Tauscher.
‘The administration’s actions are having the opposite effect by erasing the taboo on the use of nuclear weapons. Russia has already indicated that it will develop new “tactical” weapons in response and no one doubts our enemies will follow suit.’
Since Bush announced a ‘nuclear posture review’ after coming to office, the administration has taken several steps to develop and modernize its nuclear arsenal to deter a wide range of threats, including chemical and biological weapons and what the review called ‘surprising military developments’.
Three Tennessee Valley power stations have been selected to resume production of tritium, a substance used to increase the yield from a nuclear blast. Tritium has not been actively produced in the US for years and this is the first time civilian power plants have been scheduled for military use.
In April, the Los Alamos military laboratory in New Mexico produced the first ‘plutonium pit’ in America for more than a decade. Plutonium pits are triggers vital to the production of nuclear weapons and officials are pushing to get funding to build an entire new facility.
Concern also surrounds plans to cut the time needed to bring American underground nuclear testing sites back into working condition. Currently the time needed would be 24 months, but the administration has pushed for funds to reduce that to 18 months. While officials insist the US has no plans to resume nuclear testing – which would breach an international ban – critics say the enhanced preparations for a resumption are worrying.
‘Why are they even talking about this now, unless something is planned? It makes no sense to us. America has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, but it did not stop 9/11,’ said Schaeffer.
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