Apr 19, 2007

Senators Question U.S. Nuclear Warhead Plan


The Reliable Replacement Warhead: Is it a sly gambit by President George W. Bush to create a new nuclear weapon despite congressional disapproval? Or is it the key to convincing the U.S. military to make do with a much smaller stockpile of nuclear weapons?

Senators on the Appropriations energy and water subcommittee asked the chief of the National Nuclear Security Administration on April 18 for a detailed classified hearing on the RRW to find out.

Thomas D’Agostino, NNSA administrator, tried to convince senators that the Bush administration is “not trying to develop warheads for new or different military missions.”

Rather, the RRW “will serve as the key enabler for achieving a smaller, more efficient and responsive infrastructure and opportunities for a smaller stockpile,” he said in testimony to the subcommittee April 18.

But some subcommittee members were unconvinced.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., told D’Agostino, “My vote depends on whether I think this is a new warhead.”

She then quoted former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., an expert on weapons and non-proliferation, as warning that if Congress approves the RRW, the action will be misunderstood by U.S. allies, exploited by U.S. enemies and make dealing with Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues more difficult.

A key issue related to the RRW is whether it can be built and put into service without testing by an underground explosion. Explosion tests would violate a test ban treaty, and many fear, encourage other countries to conduct similar tests.

D’Agostino said he would not recommend going forward with the RRW if it could not be certified without explosion testing. But he said he could not guarantee that testing would not be needed when the RRW is several decades old. “We don’t know how materials age,” he said.

The NNSA is asking Congress for a $9.4 billion budget for 2008, up from about $9.1 billion this year. Of that, $89 million would be spent on the RRW.

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