Fear, uncertainty and doubt behind new US push for nuclear weapons

Is the nuclear arms race on again in the US? To a certain degree, yes it is. How far it will get remains to be seen, but a few recent actions recently have some folks on edge.

Last week Secretary of Defense Robert Gates joined with the Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent to Congress a three-page statement on U.S. national security and nuclear weapons, entitled "Maintaining Deterrence in the 21st Century."

The statement clearly outlines President Bush's policy for achieving or maintaining the US nuclear deterrence. The statement in part says: "Sustaining U.S. deterrence policy has required decades of dedicated service from the men and women of our armed forces, skilled representation by America's diplomats, and painstaking, often dangerous work by America's nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians. The extension of a credible U.S. nuclear deterrent has been critical to allied security and removed the need for many key allies to develop their own nuclear forces. Above all, maintaining a credible deterrent has required a decades-long, bipartisan partnership with Congress. Some in Congress have recently expressed the view that we lack a coherent nuclear weapons strategy that provides the direction and rationale for the post-Cold War U.S. nuclear force structure."

At the heart of the Bush administration's plan Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. Launched in 2004, RRW promises to produce new, technologically updated warheads that should be simpler, safer, easier to maintain, and more reliable than the estimated 10,000 warheads in the current U.S. stockpile. But the RRW plan has run into trouble. The program's money and research funds have been cut over the years and this year it seems will be no exception.

According to reports the most severe action occurred June 20 when the House in its yet-to-be-finalized energy and water appropriations bill cut out the $89 million RRW funding request. The Bush administration also sought $30 million for the Navy to work on the RRW program. That part of funding will be handled through the defense appropriations bill, which has yet to be debated.

The Washington Post reported this week the House voted to award increases to programs aimed at making cars and buildings more energy efficient and boosting research and development of alternative energy sources but rejected the Bush administration's Reliable Replacement Warhead saying it would send the wrong signal to the world on nuclear nonproliferation and should not be pursued before a comprehensive strategy on future nuclear weapons needs is developed.

The main problem detractors say is that there's no long term nuclear proliferation plan being put forth by the Bush administration. The issue however does seem to have Congress at least thinking pf debating the current and future state of nuclear affairs, experts say. Meanwhile, a United Press International story this month noted that the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has resumed production of plutonium detonators, the first production since 1989. The first detonator, known as a "pit," was completed last month and shipped to Texas, the laboratory hosted a ceremonial stamping of approval of a second pit for dignitaries, including U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., The Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal reported.

The devices are designed for W88 warheads used on nuclear submarines and the lab intends to produce 10 of them a year to replace older ones in rotation, lab Director Michael Anastasio told the Journal. The United States hasn't produced nuclear warheads since 1989 when a facility in Rocky Flats outside Denver was closed due to environmental problems.

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