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   Pentagon proposes underground hydrogen bomb

From the San Jose Mercury News:

Pentagon proposes underground hydrogen bomb

Bush officials claim the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator does not qualify as a "new weapon."

(San Jose, CA) Dan Storber, writing in the March 25 issue of the San Jose Mercury News, reports that The Pentagon and the Energy Department have called on the US government's nuclear weapons laboratories in Livermore, CA, and Los Alamos, NM, to compete in designing a hydrogen bomb to destroy underground targets.

The bombs would ram into the earth and explode underground, making them useful for attacking command bunkers or biological and chemical weapons facilities thought to be underground in such places as Iraq, Iran or North Korea.

Work on the weapon, to be called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, is set to begin this month.

A 1994 law prohibits work on nuclear earth penetrators with yields less than 5,000 tons. That law has blocked the development of so-called mini-nukes, but Bush administration officials believe modifying existing weapons might be allowed. There will be opposition to this stance. "Critics charge that extensively modifying an existing weapon for a new purpose is equivalent to a new design," writes Storber.

Lisa Cutler of the National Nuclear Security Administration, a branch of the Energy Department, told Storber, "The decision to actually convert the weapons and build the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator has not yet been made."

The design of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator has been in the works since the 1980s.

The maximum yield of the Penetrator is over one megaton--the equivalent of a million tons of TNT. More than 2 million times more powerful than the "bunker buster'' bombs the Air Force has used against Taliban and al-Qaida caves in Afghanistan. It would be about 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.


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This story was published on April 4, 2002.
  
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