US President George W. Bush has put his stamp of approval on a bill allocating millions of dollars for research into new types of nuclear weapons and for bolstering readiness at the Nevada nuclear test site.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Monday that Bush had signed the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act of 2004. The act contains funds for the Department of Energy and its nuclear programs.
Further efforts by this or another administration to win necessary congressional approval for engineering, development, and testing of new or modified nuclear weapons will be vigorously opposed and must be defeated.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association
The measure includes 7.5 million dollars to study the possibility of developing so-called "bunker-busting" nuclear bombs that officials say would enhance America's ability to destroy underground command and control centers and hidden arms depots.
US scientists are looking into the possibility of converting into bunker-busters two existing warheads - the B61 and the B83, according to Bush administration officials.
The B61 is a tactical thermonuclear gravity bomb that can be delivered by strategic as well as tactical aircraft -- from B-52 and B-2 bombers to F-16 fighter jets.
The B83 is designed for precision delivery from very low altitudes, most likely by B-2 stealth bombers, military experts said.
The main task facing the scientists now is finding how to harden the bombs' shells so they can survive penetration through layers of rock, steel and concrete before detonating, the experts said.
An additional six million dollars have been earmarked to study low-yield nuclear weapons some experts believe could be useful in high-precision strikes.
Both bunker-busters and low-yield nuclear weapons are seen by some experts as important tools for waging preventive wars against enemies that are secretly building arsenals of weapons of mass destruction.
According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, at least 10,000 bunkers currently exist in over 70 countries around the world.
More than 1,400 of them are used as strategic storage sites for weapons of mass destruction, concealed launch pads for ballistic missiles as well as leadership or top-echelon command and control posts, the DIA estimates.
The newly enacted bill also contains 24.9 million dollars to heighten readiness at the Nevada test site to enable it to conduct a nuclear test on 24- month's notice.
The administration had been insisting on an 18-month readiness window, down from the current 36 months.
But Congress chose earlier this month to tamp down the request in the face of vocal opposition from disarmament advocates, who have interpreted it as a sign of the administration's weakening determination to maintain a moratorium on nuclear tests.
Congress also displayed its ambivalence toward the program by pairing down practically every White House request or attaching caveats to it:
The 7.5 million dollars allocated for the bunker-buster study is only half of Bush's original request. And of the six million dollars earmarked for low-yield weapons, four million have been placed off limits until the government presents a detailed plan to cut the overall US nuclear stockpile.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said this obvious lack of congressional enthusiasm might help head off more dangerous proposals in the future.
"Further efforts by this or another administration to win necessary congressional approval for engineering, development, and testing of new or modified nuclear weapons will be vigorously opposed and must be defeated," Kimball said in a statement.
© Copyright 2003 AFP