Closing Door on Nuke Bunker Busters

October 29th, 2005 - by admin

Hon. Dianne Feinstein / US Senate – 2005-10-29 08:59:11

(October 28, 2005) — This week, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, announced that the Bush administration had backed down and was withdrawing a request this year to fund research into a new “bunker buster” nuclear weapon.

That’s good news for those of us who believe the development of new nuclear weapons is wrongheaded. But we must remain vigilant, because the Bush administration still appears intent on reopening the nuclear door in other areas.

Specifically, Domenici announced that the pending Energy and Water appropriations bill for fiscal year 2006 will not include $4 million the Bush administration had sought but later canceled for the research on the proposed nuclear weapon.

The administration had wanted the funds for research to determine whether a missile casing on a 1-megaton nuclear warhead — 71 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — could survive a thrust into the Earth and take out a hardened and deeply buried military target.

This despite a report released in April by a panel from the National Academy of Sciences that declared it impossible to develop a nuclear bunker buster that could burrow deep enough into the Earth to contain massive amounts of radioactive fallout. The result could be the deaths of up to 1 million people. Even with this scientific study in hand, the administration had continued to request additional funds for nuclear research. But faced with growing opposition in Congress, it appears the administration has now chosen to focus on developing a non-nuclear bunker buster.

I do not believe new nuclear weapons will make us safer. They will only encourage other nations, such as Iran and North Korea, to follow our lead. By studying the development of these new nuclear weapons, our nation would be telling the rest of the world to do as we say and not as we do.

Unfortunately, Congress cannot afford to consider the matter resolved. Since 2001, the Bush administration has demonstrated a clear intent on developing new nuclear weapons.

The first signs of this shift were seen in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, which blurred the distinction between conventional and nuclear weapons. The administration went even further with National Security Presidential Directive 17, indicating that the United States would engage in a first use of nuclear weapons to respond to a chemical or biological attack.

There were also news reports in September about a draft nuclear-weapons doctrine that incorporates the policy of pre-emption into US nuclear-weapons policy. I believe such policies only encourage other nations to develop their own nuclear arsenals, putting American lives and national-security interests at risk.

So, while the nuclear bunker buster appears dead, at least for this year, these policies suggest that the administration will maintain an aggressive nuclear weapons policy that will include new nuclear weapons.

We can do better. There are already an estimated 30,000 intact nuclear warheads spread around the globe, 17,500 of them operational. The administration should do all it can to keep the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the world’s most dangerous hands.

One of the greatest foreign policy triumphs of the past 60 years has been the fact that Hiroshima and Nagasaki still represent the only instances in which nuclear weapons have been used to kill people. The awesome destructive power of these weapons and the threat they pose convinced the world’s leaders to come together to reduce the importance of possessing nuclear weapons and chart a course for their eventual elimination.

These efforts culminated in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which requires states without nuclear weapons to pledge not to acquire them, and states with nuclear weapons to pledge to eliminate them eventually.

Instead of wasting dollars on new nuclear weapons programs, we should work to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by:

— supporting tougher inspections to monitor compliance;

— putting more effective controls on sensitive technologies, such as enrichment and reprocessing technologies that can be used to produce nuclear weapons;

— accelerating programs to safeguard and eliminate nuclear-weapons usable materials;

— not allowing any state to withdraw from the treaty to escape responsibility for prior violations; and

— speeding up implementation of related disarmament obligations to reduce the world’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapons-grade fissile material.

In addition, we should expand and accelerate Nunn-Lugar threat-reduction programs to improve security and take the rest of the Soviet-era nuclear weapons arsenal and infrastructure out of circulation, strengthen efforts to secure and remove nuclear weapons-usable materials from vulnerable sites around the world and improve our intelligence capabilities to locate and identify underground targets.

In August, the world marked the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. As we recall the death and devastation that nuclear bombs can cause, we should pledge to develop a sensible weapons policy that will allow the United States to reclaim a leadership position on nuclear nonproliferation issues and make our country and the world safer without new nuclear weapons.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.