U.S. Ponders Resumption Of Nuke-Weapons Test
BY DAN STOBER and JONATHAN S. LANDAY
San Jose Mercury News
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is laying the groundwork for the resumption of nuclear testing and the development of new nuclear weapons, according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder.
The memorandum circulated recently to members of the Nuclear Weapons Council, a high-level government body that sets policy for nuclear weapons, urges the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories to assess the technical risks associated with maintaining the U.S. arsenal without nuclear testing, which President Bush's father halted in 1992. In addition, the memo suggests that the United States take another look at conducting small nuclear tests, a policy rejected by the Clinton administration.
"We will need to refurbish several aging weapons systems," writes council chairman E.C. Aldridge Jr., the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. "We must also be prepared to respond to new nuclear weapons requirements in the future" - a reference to a push to develop "earth-penetrating" weapons that might destroy buried stocks of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons in countries such as Iraq.
The memo is backed up by little-noticed language in the defense authorization bill that Congress approved this week. The bill suggests that the U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories - Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia - should be ready to resume testing with as little as six months notice.
New testing could prompt the Russians, the Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis to do likewise, or harden North Korea's refusal to abandon its nuclear program, he warned.
But a Pentagon official said there is no movement afoot to resume testing. "It was just time to go back and collect our thoughts" after 10 years of maintaining the nuclear stockpile without tests conducted beneath the Nevada desert, said Frederick Celec, the deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear matters. "Let's take stock and see where we are. What are the risks involved in not testing?"
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