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Spending Bill Passed in Congress Eliminates Bunker-Busting Nukes

By Matthew L. Wald

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The giant spending bill that Congress passed on Saturday eliminated money for developing new nuclear weapons, including one that would be used to destroy underground bunkers. It also deeply cut the Bush administration’s request for money for a new factory to make the triggers for nuclear bombs.

One of the projects eliminated was the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, widely known as the bunker buster; the administration had wanted $27.6 million for the program.

If a bomb penetrates a few feetinto the earth before detonating, much of its energy transfers to the soil, forming a shock wave that can destroy underground structures, experts say. For years, military planners have discussed a need for such a weapon, which could wipe out underground factories or command centers. But critics argued that developing such weapons would push the United States closer to stepping across the nuclear threshold for the first time since 1945, that intelligence was not good enough to assure that the Pentagon would know where to use the them, and that even if such weapons were used, they might not work.

Another program that was cut back was the advanced concepts initiative, which was also apparently for new weapons, although details were not made public. It was also supposed to provide meaningful work for young weapons designers after years of the United States’ relying on old designs, nuclear experts said.

Instead, Congress gave the Energy Department the amount it had requested, $9 million, but told it to use the money for modifying existing weapons to keep them reliable, an aide to the House Appropriations Committee said.

Rep. David L. Hobson, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, said in a speech in August to a symposium on post-Cold-War nuclear strategy that he saw the administration’s call for research on the new bombs and the earth penetrator, along with a proposal to shorten the lead time required to resume nuclear testing, as “very provocative and overly aggressive policies that undermine our moral authority to argue that other nations should forgo nuclear weapons.”