Representative Wilson Endorses Return to Cold War Tactics

National Groups Recommend that Congress Oppose Inflated Yucca Mountain Budget

* A report released recently by a congressional committee led by Representative Heather Wilson is calling for a broader nuclear weapons arsenal, including the capacity for threatening rival nations that have chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The report advocates that the U.S. nuclear weapons program return to its Cold War mission of using our weapons to deter rival nations from using their weapons.

The report recommends development of new weapons, including the robust earth penetrator. Wilson claims that the idea is to deter potential adversaries by proving to them that the U.S. has the capacity to strike them decisively if provoked. Wilson said, "The president should always have options at his disposal."

Arms control advocates see the report as an excuse to avoid finding ways to reduce the risk of using weapons of mass destruction. Frank von Hippel, an arms control scientist and nuclear weapons advisor to the Clinton administration, said, "This is very much a return to Cold War rhetoric."

The report claims that nuclear weapons are important to threaten the assets of potential enemies, and that the U.S. must be prepared to use its weapons, both nuclear and conventional, to strike a potential enemy before they strike the U.S. The report says, "There is no obligation to wait to be hit first."

However, Wilson pointed out that the report calls for the U.S. to be ready for testing nuclear weapons if necessary, but does not directly call for resumption of testing. She also noted that the report recommends research of potential weapons designs, but not the development of those weapons.

Nevertheless, activists, scientists and politicians alike are skeptical of the reportšs recommendations. Stephen Schwartz, publisher of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, said, "It is another step in the long march to the resumption of [nuclear weapons] testing and production."

Senator Jeff Bingaman led a Senate effort to block the development of the robust earth penetrator last year. He said, "It's not credible for us to be preaching to the rest of the world the danger of nuclear weapons and proliferation of nuclear weapons if wešre beginning development of a whole new array ourselves."

* A coalition of fourteen national organizations sent a letter to Congress this week recommending that they oppose the Bush administrationšs proposed 28% increase in the Yucca Mountain project budget for 2004. The Bush plan would expand the budget to $591 million.

Critics of the plan cite outstanding technical and scientific issues, transportation concerns, and recent federal rollbacks that have weakened environmental standards for the site. The groups, which include the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Greenpeace, said, "None of our longstanding concerns about the Yucca Mountain project have been resolved. More than ever, at this critical juncture, the project requires careful congressional oversight and budget scrutiny."

Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, said, "Fiscally as well as environmentally, this unusual maneuver would be grossly irresponsible, particularly given the [Department of Energy's] track record of cost overruns and financial mismanagement in its nuclear programs."

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