New Nuclear Weapons & Bunker Busters
|Advocates say nuclear bunker busters are needed to penetrate rock layers above storage sites in underground tunnels. But most effects of the weapon are above ground. Artist's sketch. Not to scale. FAS / John Kocon Art
Nuclear advocates claim we need new weapons and new nuclear capabilities. The Administration is asking for money for research on so-called 'small' nuclear weapons but remember: for nuclear weapons 'small' is one-third the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
The Administration is also asking for funds for development of an earth-penetrating nuclear warhead, often called a 'bunker-buster.' These are not just variants of the precision-guided conventional bombs that worked so well on Baghdad buildings and Afghan caves. The earth-penetrator program is modifying an existing high yield nuclear weapon so it can penetrate a few meters into rock.
But nuclear weapons are not good at busting bunkers or destroying chemical and biological weapons stored underground, as advocates claim. And they create severe fallout above ground. In any event the primary limitation on destroying underground bunkers is intelligence, not munitions.
Are there valid missions for nuclear bunker busters?
In this excerpt from his new report Nuclear Missions after the Cold War, Ivan Oelrich weighs claims that underground biological, chemical and nuclear weapons caches require nuclear bunker busters to destroy them.
Michael A. Levi Fire in the Hole: Nuclear and non nuclear options for counter-proliferation. Carnegie Endowment Working Paper No. 31 November 2002.
Charles D. Ferguson "Mini-Nuclear Weapons and the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review," Monterey Institute of International Studies, CNS, April 2002.
Robert W. Nelson "Low-Yield Earth-Penetrating Nuclear Weapons", FAS Public Interest Report Jan/Feb 2001, Vol. 54, No. 1. A Princeton physicist lays out why "any nuclear weapon capable of destroying a buried target that is otherwise immune to conventional attack will necessarily produce enormous numbers of civilian casualties" in this frequently cited analysis.
Read rationales for new nuclear weapons by Sandia Director C. Paul Robinson and NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks.
Bunker Buster Animation