U.S. studies low-yield A-bomb to hit bunkers

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By Walter Pincus Washington Post April 16, 2001 WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department is studying whether to develop a new, low-yield nuclear weapon with an earth-penetrating nose cone that could knock out hardened or deeply buried targets such as leadership bunkers and command centers, according to administration and congressional sources.

Such a weapon has long been sought by nuclear weapons scientists and some military strategists, including key members of the Bush administration, as a way of reaching targets hidden deep underground without incurring huge collateral damage.

Advocates also say that by developing such smaller nuclear weapons, the United States could safely reduce its current stockpile of 6,000 much more powerful warheads.

Interest in low-yield weapons has been rising with concern that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could hide his biological and chemical arsenals in underground bunkers.

Another hardened target that has drawn attention is Russia's long-term construction of a nuclear war command center under Yamental Mountain.

One senior adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Iraqi leader would not be deterred by current U.S. nuclear weapons "because he knows a U.S. president would not drop a 100-kiloton bomb on Baghdad" and destroy the entire city and its population to reach weapons of mass destruction.

The prospect that the Pentagon would recommend that the Bush administration develop a new, low-yield nuclear weapon has drawn the attention of groups committed to traditional arms control.

The Federation of American Scientists plans to release a report this week arguing "that adding low-yield warheads to the world's nuclear inventory simply makes their eventual use more likely."

A report on the Pentagon study is to be sent to Congress in July.

Seven years ago, Congress barred research and development of a low-yield precision-guided nuclear weapon, out of concern that it would blur the line between conventional and nuclear weapons.

But an amendment last year to the defense authorization bill by Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) required the Pentagon to study how to defeat hardened and deeply buried targets.

Stephen M. Younger, chief of nuclear weapons research at Los Alamos National Laboratory, suggested in a paper last summer that accurate, low-yield nuclear weapons could be better suited to attacking buried bunkers and mobile missiles.

He said they would be better than today's U.S. arsenal of silo-busting weapons that each have the explosive power of 30 Hiroshima bombs


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 16, 2001

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