U.S. Representatives Urge Congress to Rescind Funding for Nuclear Bunker Buster

* U.S. Representatives Urge Congress to Rescind Funding for Nuclear Bunker Buster

A coalition of 134 members of the House of Representatives issued a statement recently to House committees requesting that they eliminate funding for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or bunker buster. The statement comes following a National Academy of Sciences report that finds that, given the appropriate conditions, a low-yield bunker buster may be just as destructive as a aboveground nuclear weapon.

The Bush Administration requested a total of $8.5 million in funding for research of the bunker buster in fiscal year 2006. The coalition, which includes New Mexico Representative Tom Udall, stated, "We believe that the [bunker buster] study and the development of any new nuclear weapons are a dangerous and wasteful use of taxpayer money." Congress eliminated funding for the bunker buster in fiscal year 2005.

The Bush Administration argues that the bunker buster is necessary to destroy hardened underground facilities that may be storing deadly chemical or biological weapons without incurring civilian casualties. There are an estimated 2,000 such facilities worldwide. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld 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?"

However, depending on the size of the weapon, the depth at which it is detonated and weather conditions, a bunker buster could potentially create fallout that could cause anywhere from hundreds to millions of civilian casualties. Therefore, the report finds that the number of civilian casualties from the use of a bunker buster would be greater than those of a chemical weapon release.

Thus, the report concludes that the bunker buster cannot penetrate to depths that would contain the effects of a nuclear explosion and that the number of casualties from a bunker buster would be equal to that from a nuclear explosion aboveground of the same yield.

The report notes that proper planning could minimize the collateral effects of a bunker buster but "a nuclear weapon burst in a densely populated urban environment will always result in a large number of casualties."

The report prompted Representatives Edward Markey, Norman Dicks, John Spratt, Barney Frank and Ellen Tausher to request that Congress defund the bunker buster entirely. The Representatives also argue that development of the bunker buster increases nuclear proliferation internationally, particularly in North Korea, Iran and Pakistan. Markey said, "The Bush Administration telling other countries that they cannot have nuclear weapons while broadcasting plans for newer, bigger, more destructive U.S. nuclear weapons is the diplomatic equivalent of preaching temperance from the barstool."

The Representatives also criticized a U.S. program to develop nuclear weapons of new and modified designs. The program is budgeted $97 million over the next five years. Representatives believe this program will also increase proliferation worldwide, saying, "We believe that the pursuit of new nuclear weapons such as the [bunker buster] sends a dangerously mixed signal to the rest of the world and erodes our nonproliferation credibility."

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