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Time to Inspect Bush's Nuclear Program

The White House plan to develop nuclear "bunker-busters" is a violation of of at least three articles of the non-proliferation treaty.
 
 
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When 200 people showed up at the gates of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory last month demanding the right to "inspect" the sprawling complex for "weapons of mass destruction," the press either ignored it or dismissed it as clever political theater. But people had better start paying attention to what Livermore, and its sister labs at Los Alamos and Sandia, are up to, which includes:

-- Undermining the 1972 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty;
-- Sabotaging the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
-- And testing bio-weapons in the heart of the Bay Area.

The demand for "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access" to Livermore--language lifted from the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq--might seem tongue-in-cheek, but representatives from California Peace Action, Tri-Valley CARES, Western States Legal Foundation, and Veterans for Peace were dead serious. "We are demanding an end to all weapons of mass destruction," Tara Dorabji of Tri-Valley CARES told the crowd, "whether developed in the suburbs by the University of California scientists or in Iraq."

The labs are flush with cash these days, and they are gearing up to create a new generation of nuclear weapons explicitly designed for use in conventional wars. And if that isn't scary enough, they are also seeking Biosafety Level 3 permits to grow and test anthrax, bubonic plague, Ebola fever, and biotoxins.

Behind this program are two lab honchos, Stephen Younger of Los Alamos (now at the Pentagon) and Paul Robinson, director of Sandia. The former is pushing to build a "bunker busting" nuke, and the latter for creating what he calls "low yield weapons with highly accurate delivery systems for deterrence in the non-Russian world." Translation: We nuke people as long as we are sure they can't nuke us back.

Congress has already allocated $15 million to study development of a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, and both Los Alamos and Livermore are working on different versions of it. And if we build it, we will test it, since it would be folly to deploy an untested weapon.

Secretary of State Colin Powell claims that the administration is "not developing new nuclear weapons and not planning to undergo any testing." However, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the U.S. must "contemplate" returning to testing and the Department of Energy has already started upgrading the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. There goes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Just in case you aren't up on international treaties, this is also a material violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which forbids the development of new weapons. It also trashes Article VI of that Treaty, which requires the nuclear powers to negotiate in good faith to abolish nuclear weapons. Lastly, it violates the Treaty section forbidding threatening nonnuclear nations with nukes. Pretty much a clean sweep.

The push for the "bunker buster" is part of the Bush administration's Nuclear Posture Review, which argues that "nuclear and nonnuclear strike systems" be considered just another "option" to "complement other military capabilities." Which, as U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey points out, is pretty nutso, "A new bunker-busting nuclear earth penetrator sends exactly the wrong message to the world. At a time when we are trying to discourage other countries--such as North Korea--from developing nuclear weapons, it looks hypocritical for us to be preparing to introduce a whole new generation of nuclear weapons into the arsenal."

Developing an earth penetrator will require miniaturizing warheads, and the Tennessee Valley Authority has already begun a $3.25 million program to produce radioactive hydrogen, or Tritium. The latter is a "blast enhancer" that gives small warheads a big bang. If this technology ever gets out, some terrorist organizations won't need a shipping container to hide a nuke. An overnight bag will do just fine.

Even the mission of the labs to "monitor" the safety of nuclear weapons, the so-called Strategic Stockpile and Stewardship Program and its companion, the National Ignition Facility, has been perverted for weapon designing. The projected "Laser/Fireball" test, for instance, can be used to simulate low-yield nuclear warhead explosions.

All of this is aimed at breaking the firewall that has kept nuclear weapons on the shelf since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maintaining that firewall is in our own interests, since breaching it, as Princeton physicist Frank von Hipple points out, "would make it permissible for others to use them against us."

Conn Hallinan ( connm@cats.ucsc.edu) is provost at the University of California at Santa Cruz and a foreign policy analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (online at www.fpif.org).