Wednesday, September 08, 2004


America Deserves Better # 25

Dear friends,
Following is an excerpt from the August Scientific American. The whole article gives a balanced comparison of nuclear vs conventional weapons for bunker busting, but misses two key points and underplays the third, following:
1)Who are we likely to need to use bunker busters against?
2)Given the downwind fallout probability from a nuclear bunker buster (see below), all our unidentified enemy would have to do is put his bunkers under urban areas to tie our hands anyway.
3)We could not know how effective such weapons would be, nor how much fallout they would really cause without testing, and that would be in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
I had no idea, until I read this, that this administration is gearing to start up the nuclear arms race again. This is the worst example I have seen yet of their irresponsible "Empire mentality". The specific program is a back door way of using a weapon we don't need, and probably couldn't use in any case, to get back into an activity that more responsible leaders, including the President's father, had long since disavowed.
I am sure the staunchest of the good Christian Republicans among you would be opposed to this initiative, and I would ask you to discuss this matter with your congregations.
Both America and the world deserve better than this, the most urgent reason yet that I have seen to defeat this administration.
Yours in horror and revulsion, Murray
Renewed interest in "nuclear bunker buster " bombs was revealed in the US "Nuclear Posture Review" of Dec., 2001, a classified defense document leaked to the press a few months afterward. The report advocated study of new nuclear military technologies to expand the strategic options available to the Pentagon. Under the auspices of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, $6.1 million was spent in 2003 for research on a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) bomb, followed by another $7.5 million in 2004. The administration plans to raise these appropriations sharply and spend $484.7 million between 2005 and 2009. At the same time, Congress has approved an Advanced Concepts Initiative, which will explore more exotic and more controversial variations on the same theme. To many observers, these substantial spending allocations and this breadth of research suggest that the administration has already tacitly committed to building RNEPs and is actively considering developing other types of nuclear bombs.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington, D.C. based Arms Control Association, declared that "the Bush administration's do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do nuclear weapons policies contradict the U.S.'s NPT [NonProliferation Treaty] commitments and jeopardize the future of the treaty." Other critics have derided the concept of small nuclear weapons as "immaculate preemption," unconvinced that even a comparatively small nuclear explosion could yield useful results without leaving an unacceptably nasty mess.
Some weapons designers have argued that low-yield earth-penetrating nuclear arms, with explosive yields ranging from the equivalent of 10 to 1,000 tons of TNT , would provide unique tactical and strategic capabilities while minimizing unwanted collateral effects in particular, the atomic fallout typically generated in abundance by more powerful bombs. Shifting from big nuclear devices that burst at the earth's surface to smaller ones that detonate below ground could indeed reduce the radioactive fallout released by a factor of about 20 – but it would by no means make the smaller munitions clean.
By decreasing the explosive power required to terminate a buried target, the use of earth-penetrating nuclear weapons lessens the amount of incidental radioactive fallout. Four scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory (Bryan L. Fearey, Paul C. White, John St. Ledger and John D. Immele) recently estimated in the journal Comparative Strategy that a small nuclear bomb that penetrated the ground 10 meters before exploding could be roughly 1/40th the size of a bomb detonated at the surface, and still achieve its goal. But is that reduction sufficient to contemplate deploying earth-penetrating nuclear bombs? According to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment's report "The Containment of Underground Nuclear Explosions," fully containing the fallout from a one-kiloton nuclear weapon requires detonating it 90 meters underground in a carefully sealed cavity. Today's best penetrator missiles can reach a depth of only about six meters in dry rock, and as Robert W. Nelson of Princeton University has argued in Physics Today, limits on the strengths of materials suggest that 20 meters might be a theoretical maximum.
These figures leave little doubt that use of a nuclear bunker buster would spread fallout; in an urban area, a kiloton size bomb could kill tens of thousands. .Consider a one-kiloton bunker buster bomb set off at relatively shallow depth less than 10 meters in wind conditions averaging 10 kilometers an hour. Although the numbers will vary slightly depending on detonation depth, geology and weapon details, the basic results will be similar. If it takes six hours for people in the vicinity to evacuate, then calculations show that nearly everyone downwind of the blast within approximately five kilometers would still be killed by fallout, and half the inhabitants eight kilometers away would die. Only if the nearest population center is 10 or more kilometers downwind will the fallout lead to few if any rapid fatalities. Even if the number of casualties were small, extensive areas adjacent to the blast zone would be contaminated with radioactivity.
One crucial question is whether new tactical nuclear weapons can be developed without resuming nuclear testing, which would clearly be in defiance of the NNP treaty. In 1993 Congress enacted a prohibition-called the Spratt-Furse ban-against any research that could lead to a new, small, nuclear weapon, one with a yield of less than five kilotons. Led by Representative John Spratt of South Carolina and then Representative Elizabeth Furse of Oregon the legislature sought to continue the moratorium on nuclear testing begun by President George H. W. Bush. Some of the lawmakers also sought to forestall nascent efforts to build a new generation of small nuclear arms.
Some defenders of the ban argued that these substantially new weapons systems would require demonstrations to certify them. According to this line of reasoning, repeal of the Spratt-Furse prohibition would constitute the first step toward a resumption of nuclear testing, threatening international arms control efforts. In May 2003, in a near party-line vote, the Spratt-Furse ban was repealed. snip

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