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The Daily Cardinal February 11, 2005

Opinion: Nuclear bunker busters need no extra funding

By Nick Rotchadl

As the world is about to be destroyed by a Russian doomsday machine near the end of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 classic satire film "Dr. Strangelove," U.S. leaders pace about the war room to determine how mine shafts are going to be built to sustain human life. Yet, as General Turgidson frantically points out, a huge problem could occur if the Russians attempted an immediate sneak attack on U.S. mine shaft space. With their stashed-away missiles destroying U.S. mine shafts, the Russians could create a "mine shaft gap."

Missiles meant to destroy Hard and Deeply Buried Targets, such as mine shafts, were threatening to General Turgidson in "Dr. Strangelove." Now such missiles, called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators or "bunker-busters," are intriguing to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. RNEP missiles are intriguing enough to Rumsfeld that he requested funds for them in the president's 2006 budget.

In a memo Rumsfeld wrote last month to former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, he made it clear he wants to complete the study on RNEP weapons. Rumsfeld said to Abrahams, "You can count on my support for your efforts to revitalize the nuclear weapons infrastructure and to complete the RNEP study."

President Bush has supported Rumsfeld by asking for $8.5 million for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator project in his 2006 budget, which was released Monday. Approximately $4 million goes to Spencer's former department and $4.5 million to Rumsfeld's Department of Defense.

The need for weapons to destroy deeply buried targets is increasingly apparent because hostile nations are building their most important facilities approximately 1,000 feet underground. However, RNEP missiles are not the best method of destroying underground targets.

Nuclear weapons, including any RNEP, cannot be engineered to penetrate far enough into the ground to prevent nuclear fallout. According to Globalsecurity.org, to prevent fallout, a nuclear weapon with approximately the same yield as the one dropped on Hiroshima must be buried 850 feet in the ground. Currently, the best weapons casing available can barely penetrate 100 feet.

Additionally, the yield of a RNEP will be much larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which will increase fallout. If a weapon with a yield only 1/100th the necessary size for an RNEP was detonated only 20 to 50 feet underground, which is close to current capability, it would put one million cubic feet of radioactive debris into the air and create a crater approximately the size of ground zero in New York, according to Globalsecurity.org.

The United States' international credibility will suffer if the RNEP project moves forward. Increased spending on nuclear weapons severely undermines U.S. efforts in non-proliferation. It will be difficult for other nations to stop building nuclear weapons when they notice the United States is funding more nuclear weapons research. If President Bush truly believed non-proliferation was the most important issue facing this nation, as he stated in the first presidential debate, he would not try to move forward with the RNEP project.

The fact that an effective alternative to RNEP weapons exists makes it clear that funding for these missiles is unnecessary. James O. Ellis Jr., former head of U.S. Strategic Command, said in 2003 that smart, precision-guided conventional munitions could seal off deeply buried targets. No reason can justify spending taxpayer money on RNEPs when there is a safe, effective and less costly alternative already available.

In President Bush's effort to cut the deficit in half by 2009, he has eliminated or drastically cut back 150 government programs. Most of these cuts fall on the domestic side because the United States is a nation at war, but President Bush still needs to look at wasteful spending on the defense side of the budget. The $8.5 million used to fund RNEP research could be put to better use in education, healthcare, border security or deficit reduction.

Thankfully, Congress has been skeptical of the RNEP program. Congress approved the requested $15 million for fiscal year 2003, then cut the requested amount in half to $7.5 million in 2004 and eliminated funding in the 2005 budget. The responsible thing for Congress to do this year is to again deny funding for RNEP research. Yet, do not expect this year to be the end of the RNEP project. Rumsfeld claims he also wants to request funds for fiscal year 2007.

Nick Rotchadl is a junior majoring in political science and journalism.


Copyright 2005, The Daily Cardinal Media Corp.