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"I am Death, the destroyer of worlds." -- Quoted from the Bhagavad Gita by Robert Oppenheimer, American physicist, as the first atomic bomb exploded over the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945

November 25, 2003 WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed a huge new defense bill that includes millions of dollars for a small nuclear bomb designed to destroy deep, hardened underground bunkers. Among the many items tucked away in the $401 billion defense authorization act was a $15 million three-year research project by the Energy and Defense departments to create the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. (New York Post)
The Administration requested $15 million to modify existing nuclear weapons for deeper penetration into the ground to destroy underground enemy bunkers. The House rejected an amendment to transfer these funds to conventional weapons research under the Tauscher amendment cited above. In the Senate, Byron Dorgan (D-ND) offered an amendment to prohibit the use of funds for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. This amendment was killed by a vote of 56-41. The destructive power of this weapon would be ten times that of the Hiroshima bomb. -- The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

"The House and Senate recently ditched the ban on researching low-yield nuclear devices, and approved funding for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a bunker-busting weapon said to be 10 times more destructive than the Hiroshima bomb. The justification? Nuclear weapons will only be researched, not tested or deployed. Small coincidence that the House and Senate simultaneously called for accelerated resumption of underground nuclear testing on U.S. soil. The message is clear: Research nuclear weapons today, test and deploy them tomorrow." -- Heather Wokusch of the Guerilla News Network

"The American public does not support building new nuclear weapons. So the secretary calls them by other names -- "new challenges," "low-yield weapons," "advanced concepts" and "weapons concepts." But once detonated, these euphemisms will become mushroom clouds. Allowing our best thinkers to cook up ways to make nuclear weapons more usable is wrong-headed and dangerous." -- Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA)

"At the same time Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was penning a piece for your paper about the Bush administration's work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, he was carrying out the administration's plans to end two of our most successful nonproliferation programs. This week the secretary sent a letter notifying the Russians that the United States will terminate the Nuclear Cities Initiative. Also this week, an agreement governing key aspects of the effort to eliminate 34 metric tons of weapons-grade Russian plutonium was set to lapse without US action." -- Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA)

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US Scraps Nuclear Weapons Watchdog

Money for new nukes approved in Senate committee

July 31, 2003 - August 9, 2003 -- A US department of energy panel of experts which provided independent oversight of the development of the US nuclear arsenal has been quietly disbanded by the Bush administration. The decision to close down the National Nuclear Security Administration Advisory (NNSA) committee has come just days before a closed-door meeting at a US air force base in Nebraska to discuss the development of a new generation of tactical "mini nukes" and "bunker buster" bombs, as well as an eventual resumption of nuclear testing.

The committee was responsible for overseeing nuclear weapons issues, as well as holding public hearings and publishing public reports on nuclear weapons information. The typical lifetime of such federal advisory committees is two years. However the NNSA committee's charter stipulates "The Committee is expected to be needed on a continuing basis."

An NNSA spokesman, Bryan Wilkes said: "The advisory committee was created to assist the NNSA administrator during the creation of the NNSA, and it was not intended to go on beyond two years. Clearly the NNSA is up and running and it is not needed any more."

The committee's disbanding may be a source of frustration to its members, but it is hardly a surprise. The committee was supposed to meet four times yearly, but according to prominent physicist and committee member and Sidney Drell, its members were rarely called upon, and it did not meet at all in the past year.

Ed Markey, a Democratic congressman and co-chairman of a congressional taskforce on non-proliferation, said: "Instead of seeking balanced expert advice and analysis about this important topic, the department of energy has disbanded the one forum for honest, unbiased external review of its nuclear weapons policies."

The under-reported disbanding of the committee, along with a government push for increased funding of nuclear weapons research has some critics saying that the Bush administration's aim to free the world of nuclear weapons doesn't apply to the United States.

The committee's charter said that it's meetings "will be held approximately four times each year". In fact, it was not summoned at all in the last year of its existence.

"They just didn't call us. We didn't hear from them," Professor Sidney Drell, a leading American physicist and a former committee member said. Professor Drell and Raymond Jeanloz, a planetary science professor at the University of California at Berkeley, co-authored an article earlier this year that was highly critical of the plans for new weapons.

"Rather than moving to develop new nuclear weapons, the United States should push to strengthen the nonproliferation regime through example and through stronger compliance measures directed at those who flout its basic purposes," they wrote in the March 2003 edition of Arms Control Today, a few months before the panel was disbanded.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) finds the weapons' nomenclature misleading, saying that "the mini-nukes and bunker busting warheads will make nuclear weapons more acceptable for use ... They make these weapons appear just like other (conventional) weapons and they are not."

The statute establishing federal advisory committees requires their dissolution to be officially gazetted in the federal register but in the end, the NNSA panel was abandoned quietly, by a simple email to its members.

"The Bush administration is considering policy changes that will alter the role of nuclear weapons in national defense," Markey said. "Given the importance and sheer complexity of the issues raised ... why was the only independent contemplative body studying nuclear weapons disbanded - and disbanded in such a surreptitious fashion?"

Daryl Kimball, the head of the independent, Washington-based Arms Control Association, said: "This will make the department of energy and the NNSA even more opaque. It will be all the more difficult to understand what they are planning to do."

The Bush administration requested $68 million for the development of the warheads and for "research into other advanced nuclear weapons technology." A Senate subcommittee gave its support Wednesday for development of "bunker busting" nuclear warheads and research into other advanced nuclear weapons technology, days after the House voted to cut funding for the same programs.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chair of the Appropriations subcommittee dealing with nuclear program, said he expects further attempts on the Senate floor to cut money for the programs. Domenici said he was shocked by the level of cuts in the House, but said he was confident the degree of cuts being pursued in the House "won't stand" when a final spending bill is written.

The nuclear programs are part of a $27.3 billion spending bill for the Energy Department and various other programs that Domenici's panel advanced for consideration by the full Appropriations Committee, likely later this week.

The Senate bill includes all $15 million the administration has requested to study the development of an earth-penetrating nuclear warhead, a so-called bunker-buster; $6 million in early research into mini-nukes of less than 5 kilotons; and $25 million to shorten the lead time necessary to resume underground nuclear bomb testing from the current 36 months to 18 months.

The Senate bill also would provide all $22 million sought by the Energy Department to continue environmental studies for a manufacturing plant to make plutonium triggers for the existing nuclear arsenal. The department has said such a plant is needed to ensure adequate supplies of the plutonium triggers for the aging warhead arsenal.

The Senate panel refused to cut any of the $68 million the Bush administration requested for the programs.

The House spending bill would cut funding for the plutonium trigger plant in half, and cut the bunker-buster money by two-thirds, while eliminating the other funding. Energy Department officials were stunned by the cuts in the House committee and said they hope to get the money restored when the full House considers the bill, and will work to keep it in the Senate legislation.

No effort was made Wednesday in the Senate to cut spending for the programs. However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) said she would try to get the money eliminated once the bill gets to the Senate floor.

The Pentagon and the energy department are pushing for the development of tactical nuclear weapons with yields of less than 5 kilotons and hardened "bunker buster" nuclear bombs, designed to penetrate deeply buried targets, where enemy leaders or weapons may be hidden.

According to the leaked agenda for the Omaha meeting in early August, Pentagon and energy department officials will discuss how to test small numbers of these new weapons, and whether this will require a break from the moratorium on nuclear tests. The US has suspended bomb tests since 1992 and administration officials have said they see no reason at this time to resume testing, but only want to be better prepared to do so if there again is a need.

In a time of a hawkish administration, where will this research lead us? Critics argue that the new weapons programs will blur the distinction between conventional and nuclear arms, lead to development of a new generation of nuclear weapons, and increase the likelihood of global nuclear proliferation, triggering a new arms race.

The wheels are beginning to grind toward the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons, Senator Feinstein said, adding that the mini-nukes and bunker busting warheads will make nuclear weapons more acceptable for use. They make these weapons appear just like other (conventional) weapons, she continued, and they are not.

-- Edited and excerpted from articles by Julian Borger in The GuardianMother Jonesby H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press, San Mateo County Times, and by Edward J. Markey, Rep. (D-MA) and by Ellen Tauscher in the Washington Post

National Nuclear Security Administration

Chinese Diplomats to Hold Nuke Talks in N Korea

August 7, 2003 -- The crisis erupted in October when Washington accused the Stalinist state of reneging on a 1994 bilateral nuclear freeze accord by setting up a clandestine atomic program based on enriched uranium. China, the closest ally of N Korea, has been an active mediator in the confrontation between the US and N Korea. It arranged the first round of three-way negotiations in April, bringing together US, Chinese and N Korean officials.

Top US arms control official John Bolton met with S Korean officials last week as efforts to engage N Korea in dialogue appeared to have stalled. Paula DeSutter, assistant Secretary of State for verification and compliance, said in testimony to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission last Thursday that Beijing had failed to take serious steps to prevent trafficking in illegal missile technologies requested by Washington.

Gaps in China's proliferation controls and a lax attitude by the government on enforcement are permitting Chinese firms to funnel illegal missile exports out of the country, DeSutter, a senior US official, charged.

"China has generally tried to avoid making fundamental changes in its transfer policies by offering the US carefully-worded commitments," said DeSutter. "China does not appear to be enforcing controls at its borders, allowing unauthorized transfers to go undetected. Furthermore, it must establish a system of end-use verification checks to ensure that items approved for transfer are not diverted."

N Korea blasted the US Thursday for planning a massive military drill with S Korea on the Korean peninsula this month, ahead of six-way talks on its nuclear program. S Korean and the US are planning their biggest joint military exercise ever during this annual 12-day exercise. It will begin on August 18 and focus on computerized war games involving S Korean troops and US forces based in and out of the peninsula. Some 37,000 US troops are stationed in S Korea.

This has been denounced as a "pre-emptive attack" on their country by N Korea. "The US... is going to stage such a war drill when the six-party talks for settling the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula is on the order of the day thanks to the DPRKs (N Koreas) active efforts and bold initiative," a N Korean spokesman said. "This leaves us skeptical about the US willingness to discard its hostile policy toward the DPRK and make a policy switchover."

A Chinese diplomatic delegation arrived in N Korea Thursday to fine-tune policy approaches ahead of six-way talks on the Norths nuclear crisis. The delegation was being led by Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yia, who is considered a candidate for Chinas chief delegate to the talks. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing will visit S Korea next week. The Japanese daily said N Korea has been contacting participating nations directly without consulting China, Pyongyangs closest ally.

N Korea has said the six-way talks with S Korea, the US, Japan, China and Russia, would take place in Beijing, but details and the timing of the meet are still being discussed. Japans Yomiuri Shimbun said Thursday that N Korea wants to hold the talks in the first week of September while host China has proposed an August 21 or 25 start. The US hopes to hold them in August ahead of a UN general assembly meeting in New York in September. -- Edited and excerpted from the article in the Daily Times and SpaceWar (1) (2)

Nuclear detection equipment has sniffed not one but two separate nuclear weapons programs wafting from N Korea, one based on highly enriched uranium and the other on plutonium -- enough fissile material for more than a couple of nuclear bombs.

Former N Korean prisoners have produced names and locations for five gulags and begged the US to monitor them with spy satellites. One lens already has revealed that one prison camp is larger than the District of Columbia. -- From the article by Mindy Belz in World

Chirac Insists Nuclear Testing in Pacific Safe

"There has been no recorded incidence of any radiation levels significantly higher than those which occur naturally," French President Jacques Chirac said at a press conference last week, denying that French nuclear testing on the Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls in French Polynesia over a 30-year period until 1996 had posed a health risk.

He said that nuclear testing carried out in the Pacific had been completely safe, but that France would take responsibility if cases of ill health connected to the blasts were proven. Chirac said a 1996 study carried out by experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) had found no evidence of a health threat. The study's findings had not been contested by anyone "competent to do so", said Chirac, who provoked a storm of condemnation in 1995 when he ordered the resumption of nuclear testing in the Pacific shortly after his election.

After a swift six-test campaign in French Polynesia, the facilities were shut down completely a year later.

Chirac said as a precaution, France continued to monitor radiation levels in the region and carried out regular medical check-ups of personnel involved in the testing. Chirac's insistence that there had been no short or long-term effects on the health of people living around the test grounds was questioned by New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark on Monday.

"When France brought its atmospheric testing to the South Pacific the standard response in New Zealand was to say, 'If it is so safe, why don't you do it at home?'," New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said.

Chirac earlier addressed representatives from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Guinea, Niue, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, pledging support for the region's fragile economies and environment. The French president also reaffirmed support for an Australian-led intervention force, which is currently attempting to restore law and order in the civil war-hit Solomon Islands.

"An international military presence is sometimes necessary to support the return to civil peace and to consolidate institutions," he said. -- Edited and excerpted from the full article at SpaceWar

NZ PM Dismisses Chirac Praise of Pacific Nuclear Testing

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