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Critics Of US Say Nuclear Bunker-Buster Would Not Be Clean Bomb

in search of a clean bomb
by Robert Holloway
New York (AFP) April 9, 2002
Critics of US nuclear policy said that bombs designed to destroy targets deep underground would spew enough radioactive fallout to kill tens of thousands at street level.

The United States does not have such weapons, but a Pentagon report leaked March 15 said "new capabilities must be developed to defeat emerging threats such as hard and deeply buried targets" including stocks of chemical or biological arms.

The Pentagon's nuclear posture review, sent to Congress in January and published on the Internet by GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington think tank, dominated discussion at a two-week UN committee meeting which ends Friday.

Larry Korb, a former US assistant secretary of defense and now Vice President of the Council on Foreign Relations, said "the new weapon would not be a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon" but would be qualitatively different.

David Culp, of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby in Washington, said that, contrary to the official US image, a "bunker-buster" would not explode with minimal fallout.

The two men were speaking Wednesday at a diplomats seminar attended by AFP.

Culp said the envisaged weapon was an existing B-61 or B-83 warhead, modified with a ground-penetrating casing and carrying a 300-kiloton charge (equivalent to 300,000 tons of TNT).

That is 15 times greater than the bomb which flattened the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945, and "would create a huge crater and throw up lots of dust," he said.

He estimated that such a warhead, used against an underground target in downtown Baghdad, would cause between 10,000 and 40,000 deaths within 24 hours due to radioactive poisoning.

"It would not be a clean nuclear weapon; there is no such thing," he said.

Iraq is one of seven countries mentioned in the Pentagon report as potential targets of US nuclear missiles.

Culp said advocates of bunker-buster bombs argued that the high temperature of a nuclear explosion would incinerate chemical or biological toxins and thus eliminate the risk of their dispersal by other forms of blast.

The report has worried many attending the UN committee, called to prepare the next review of the 1970 Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), due in 2005.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, described the report as "a canary in a coalmine," intended to test the atmosphere of negotiations.

"Delegates have been wondering how to respond, since it is not yet a policy document," he said.

One concern is that the United States might end its 10-year-old moratorium on nuclear testing in order to develop the bunker-buster.

The administration of US President George W. Bush has already made clear its hostility to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the resumption of testing could deal a fatal blow to the NPT.

"Would it require testing?" Culp asked, adding: "That is a question that not even our government knows the answer to."

The bunker-buster "would be a new weapons system with a new capability, using parts of old warheads," he said.

Even in the 1990-91 Gulf War against Iraq, "there was never any talk of using nuclear weapons," Korb said. "Today, there is talk of using them to go after terrorist targets, for example."

A Nuclear Tipped Response To Missle Attack
Earlier this month The Pentagon is studying the possible use of nuclear-tipped interceptors in a national missile defense system, The Washington Post said Thursday quoting experts.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld encouraged the Defense Science Board to explore the idea in a future study on alternative approaches to intercepting enemy missiles," board chairman William Schneider told the daily in an interview.

"We've talked about it as something that he's interested in looking at," Schneider said.

President George W. Bush in December withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia to allow the development of a controversial missile defense system that would destroy enemy nuclear missiles in flight.

Strongly opposed by most governments who consider it a return to the Cold War-era arms race, the system is in its early stages and includes experimental land- and sea-based interceptors, as well as airborne lasers and space-based weapons. The goal is to have some capability in place by 2004.

Compared to unarmed, "hit to kill" interceptors currently under development, Schneider said, nuclear-tipped interceptors would deal more effectively with decoys and missile-borne biological warfare agents.

Instead of having to distinguish actual targets from clusters of decoys deployed by enemy missiles to confuse an interceptor, the expert said, nuclear-tipped devices could rely on explosive power or radiation to wipe everything in the vicinity.

Similarly, nuclear-tipped interceptors could destroy missile-borne biological agents such as anthrax before they reached the ground, he added.

Other experts quoted by The Washington Post said it would take a very large warhead of more than a megaton to destroy anthrax spores spread perhaps over five kilometers (three miles) or more, jeopardizing civilian and military satellites in orbit and disrupting communications over a wide area.

Taiwan Mini Nukes To Keep China At Bay
In related news Taiwan was reported April 14, to have considered using small nuclear weapons against China in the 1960s but did not go through with it after the United States rejected the idea, press reports said Sunday.

The United Evening News quoted a recently declassified military document saying the former Kuomintang (KMT) government commissioned a study on April 4, 1961, to determine the feasibility of the attacks.

According to the paper, the then chief of the general staff, General Peng Meng-chi, ordered the study to look into firing small nuclear bombs from the offshore island of Kinmen at and around the Chinese city of Xiamen.

The study was made following a bloody battle in 1958 in which the communist army showered Kinmen with about 500,000 shells in 44 days to drive the Nationalist troops off Kinmin and other frontline islands.

The KMT troops fled to Taiwan and some of the offshore islands after they were defeated in 1949 at the end of a civil war.

China has since regarded Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified by force, if necessary.

According to the United Evening News, the declassified report showed the study suggested firing small nuclear bombs from eight-inch (20-centimetre) howitzers on Kinmen, which is only two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the mainland.

The howitzers have a range of 17 kilometers (10.2 miles) and Kinmen is more than a hundred kilometres from Taiwan's mainland.

According to the newspaper, the report said the intended bombs would have had about one-twentieth of the power used in the US nuclear attack on Hiroshima.

Possible targets included Chinese harbours or troops or naval fleets and the main aim was to stop communist forces from amassing and invading Kinmen.

The study said troops stationed on Kinmen would barely be affected by the subsequent nuclear fallout, much of which was expected to fall on the Chinese mainland.

But the paper said the United States eventually rejected the plan and did not provide Taiwan with the nuclear weapons, fearing it would prompt Russia to offer more military aid to the mainland.

Taiwan said for the first time last month it opposed any use of nuclear weapons by the US against China, the paper quoted a defense ministry's written reply to a parliamentary question as saying.

All rights reserved. 2002 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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Russia Voices Concern Over US Nuclear Test Plans
Moscow - Mar 29, 2002
Russia is "extremely concerned" that the United States may soon abandon an international moratorium on nuclear testing to make way for development of a new generation of weapons, Interfax quoted foreign ministry sources here as saying Thursday.

Washington May Need To Test Nuke Bunker-Busters
 Washington - Mar 18, 2002
The new US nuclear posture review, which hints at abandonment of an international moratorium on nuclear testing, could lift the taboo on use of such weapons and possibly encourage proliferation, experts suggested Friday.


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