"Bush seeks to beef up US nuclear-weapon

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Wednesday, March 12, 2003 at 5:18PM :

13 March 2003

Nature 422, 101 - 102

Bush seeks to beef up US nuclear-weapons arsenal


[WASHINGTON] The Bush administration is mounting a fresh push to add to the United States' nuclear-weapons arsenal.

In a report to go to Congress this week, the Air Force is expected to make the case for developing a "robust nuclear earth penetrator" that can destroy deeply buried targets. The earth penetrator, proposed last year by Bush-administration officials (see Nature 415, 945; 2002), would be a hardened version of an existing warhead.

The administration has also taken steps to develop new, low-yield nuclear weapons, which it says could be used to destroy chemical and biological weapon facilities. The president's 2004 budget asks for the repeal of a 1993 law that prohibits the development of weapons with yields of less than 5 kilotonnes as they would lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons.

In a hearing last week, Congressman Mac Thornberry (Republican, Texas) said the new weapons would strengthen the United States' nuclear deterrent. "I'm concerned about how we keep our deterrent credible," he said.

But scientists familiar with nuclear-weapon design questioned the usefulness of the proposal and said that it would encourage global nuclear proliferation. "'Penetrators can't penetrate very far," says Richard Garwin, a physicist who has advised the US government on nuclear-weapons policy. "And they will not destroy chemicals or even anthrax under likely conditions of storage."

Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (Democrat, California) says she hopes to muster enough opposition to block the new weapons in Congress. "I think Democrats are getting increasingly fired up about this," she says. "And I think the American people should be fired up about it too."

Nature Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2003 Registered No. 785998 England.

-- Sadie
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