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.

Bunker buster countermeasures
FAS is now studying the cost of tunneling versus the shock inflicted at various depths. Watch this space.

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.


Linton Brooks memo on nonproliferation impact of new nuclear weapons

Interview with C. Paul Robinson 

Pursuing a New Nuclear Weapons Policy for the 21st Century

Bush Administration Policy, interviews, memos

House Subcommittee Zeroes Funds for New Nuclear Weapons

Missions for Nuclear Weapons after the Cold War

Related Items:

New Nuclear Weapons
One of the key debates relating to nuclear weapons policy in the United States is whether the U.S. will pursue new nuclear weapons designs that might have enhanced capabilities. In particular debate is currently centered around an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon and a low-yield nuclear weapon.

Earth Penetrating Warheads Against Deep Targets
The Administration is asking for funds for research on high-yield robust nuclear earth penetrators (RNEP). This FAS report shows that there is no sensible tactical requirement for these weapons, countermeasures are obvious and easy, and they would create large swaths of deadly fallout. 

Nuclear Bunker Busters Are Dangerous, Ineffective, and Unneeded (10/26/05)
Administration withdraws request for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) or "nuclear bunker buster," at the request of the Administration. 

Senate Debates on Nuclear Bunker Buster 
Commentary on the Senate debate over the Nuclear Bunker Buster. 

Senate Debates Nuclear Bunker Buster, Part II
Overview of present Senate deliberations on spending for the Nuclear Bunker Buster.