Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bush pushes for next generation of nuclear weapons

MERCURY, Nev. ( USA TODAY) — If the Bush administration succeeds in its determined but little-noticed push to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons, this sun-baked desert flatland 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas could once again reverberate with the ground-shaking thumps of nuclear explosions that used to be common here.

The nuclear-weapons test areas are now a wasteland that is home mostly to lizards and coyotes. Throughout the Nevada Test Site, the ground is strewn with mangled buildings and pockmarked with craters, the ghostly evidence of the 928 nuclear tests the government conducted here from 1951 to 1992.

A concrete tower designed to hold the bomb for what would have been the 929th test still looms over the desert floor.

But "Icecap," the test of a bomb 10 times the size of the one that devastated the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, was halted when the first President Bush placed a moratorium on U.S. nuclear tests in October 1992. The voluntary test ban came two years after Russia stopped its nuclear tests.

Scientists critical of test site blasting plan

Associated Press
April 16, 2006

LAS VEGAS - A group of scientists has criticized the Defense Department's plan to detonate 700 tons of explosives at the Nevada Test Site, saying the test is intended to simulate a nuclear blast as part of Pentagon research into the development of low-yield nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon refused to confirm or deny the claim made by the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington, D.C.-based liberal policy group opposed to development of nuclear weapons.

The federation said it based its statement on a review of Pentagon budget requests since 2002 that it says show the blast, scheduled for June 2, would serve as a "low-yield nuclear weapon simulation."

The charge comes less than a week after James Tegnelia, director of the Threat Reduction Agency, told reporters that the test would send "a mushroom cloud over Las Vegas." Although Tegnelia quickly retracted the comment and stressed that the test would be non-nuclear, Nevada political leaders called for more information on the blast planned about 90 miles from Las Vegas.

Federation analyst Hans Kristensen said the test, while non-nuclear, could be used to develop a nuclear bunker-busting warhead, something some analysts have urged the Bush administration to pursue. The test "is about fine-tuning tools for fighting nuclear wars, Kristensen said. The nuclear war fighters are trying to calibrate a low-yield nuclear weapon against a relatively shallow target in limestone."

Kristensen said the goal of the test program was to find the weakest nuclear weapon that would still achieve knock out hardened, underground structures.

Lower-yield weapons would spread less radiation and fallout that would affect civilians and troops.

Asked last week about the federation's comments, agency spokesman David Rigby told the Las Vegas Sun, "I don't confirm them. I don't deny them. I don't discuss the quality of their information.

"This is a test to have better predictive tools to defeating hardened and underground targets," Rigby said. "It is not a precursor to a nuclear test. It is not a nuclear test."

The June blast "has been redefined over the past several years," and the goal now is to provide data on how such massive explosions and their ground shocks affect structures in different geologic situations, he said.

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