Congress Cuts Funding for Bunker Buster

* Congress Cuts Funding for Bunker Buster

The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee recently eliminated $4 million that was included in the fiscal year 2006 federal budget proposal to fund research and development of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or bunker buster. The cuts come following a statement by 134 Representatives saying, "We believe that the [bunker buster] study and the development of any new nuclear weapons are a dangerous and wasteful use of taxpayers' money."

The Bush Administration requested $8.5 million for the bunker buster, $4.5 million of which was allocated to the Department of Defense with the other $4 million allocated to the Department of Energy (DOE). The funding under DOE was cut altogether, but the House Armed Services Subcommittee constrained Defense funding for the bunker buster to traditional, rather than nuclear, weapons.

New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, a supporter of the nuclear bunker buster, is pessimistic that funding will be restored, saying, "We'll have the same battle [in the Senate], and it may lose."

The House Energy and Water Subcommittee also released its changes to the proposed nuclear weapons budget recently. The changes include a $450 million decrease in the overall weapons budget as well as increased funding for environmental clean up. The changes also eliminate funding for the Modern Pit Facility and increase funding for nuclear weapons dismantlement.

However, the changes also increase funding for the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository to $661 million, despite serious Congressional concerns about its scientific viability. Further, the committee increases funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead from $9.3 to $25 million.

According to DOE, the Reliable Replacement Warhead program is "to demonstrate feasibility of developing reliable replacement [nuclear weapons] components that are producible and certifiable for the stockpile." In other words, the program will develop nuclear weapons of new and modified designs.

The program was established in 2005 to replace the Advanced Concepts Initiative. Both lawmakers and weaponeers are committed to the program. In 2005, Fred Tarantino, the head of the weapons program at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said, "I hope that this will be the heart and soul of the weapons program for the next decade."

Linton Brooks, head of DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, says that the program is required to develop a nuclear weapons stockpile that is more appropriate for current and future threats. In testimony before the Senate Arms Services Committee in 2005, Brooks said, "Today's Cold War legacy stockpile is the wrong stockpile...." Brooks argued that smaller weapons and bunker busters are necessary to maintain deterrence.

In an analysis of the program, Nuclear Watch of New Mexico expressed concern that the Reliable Replacement Warhead program will lead to a fourth generation of nuclear weapons that will undermine U.S. commitments to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Jay Coghlan, of Nuclear Watch, says, "The House cut to the nuclear bunker buster is excellent news. On the other hand, its dramatic increase for the Reliable Replacement Warhead is troubling. We need to be careful that through it this country doesn't advance new designs and seek to preserve our own nuclear weapons while demanding that others get rid of theirs."

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