FAS Welcomes Report on Bunker Busters; Report shows lack of enthusiasm for nukes
The FY01 Defense Authorization Conference report mandated the joint DoD-DOE study to review U.S. requirements to defeat deeply buried targets as well as chemical and biological agent stockpiles. Though the congressional mandate contained no requirement to focus on nuclear attack options, the conference report explicitly asked that the study participants “provide information and other assistance required to help DOD make informed decisions on whether to seek any necessary modifications to existing law.” But in spite of this invitation, the report did not recommend any changes to the law governing development of low-yield nuclear weapons.
As requested by Congress, the report examines tasks for which it claims nuclear weapons would be best suited amongst existing weapons, and examines the many limitations of such weapons. Key technical details are only provided in the classified appendix, but it is not difficult to speculate as to what those limitations are: political aversion to using nuclear weapons, along with the massive loss of human life concomitant with the use of any bunker-buster nuclear weapon.
“Using a nuclear weapon, no matter how small, could easily ignite a broader nuclear war,” according to Michael Levi, Deputy Director of FAS’ Strategic Security Project. “The report shows that there are significant forces in the Defense Department who have realized this and so have little interest in nuclear weapons.”
In a paper published by the FAS in April 2001, Princeton University physicist Robert Nelson wrote: "No earth-burrowing missile can penetrate deep enough into the earth to contain an explosion with a nuclear yield even as small as 1% of the Hiroshima weapon. The explosion simply blows out a massive crater of radioactive dirt, which rains down on the local region with especially intense and deadly fallout." Public advocacy of bunker-buster nuclear weapons has been greatly muted since the release of that study. Addressing the DoD-DOE report, Dr. Nelson noted "It's clear that the report's authors are aware of the massive civilian casualties that an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon would cause from radioactive fallout. I certainly hope those making the final decision on development will realize that new nuclear weapons aren't the way forward."