The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP)
The Bush Administration requested funding from Congress to research a new type of nuclear bomb. The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) is a nuclear weapon that would burrow a few meters into rock or concrete before exploding and thus generating a powerful underground shock wave. Its hypothetical targets are deeply buried command bunkers or underground storage sites containing chemical or biological agents.
The RNEP budget: RNEP is not just a feasibility study: the Department of Energy's 2005 budget included a five-year projection—totaling $484.7 million—for the weapons laboratories to produce a completed warhead design and begin production engineering by 2009. Last year, David L. Hobson, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, zeroed out FY05 funding for the program, stating, "we cannot advocate for nuclear nonproliferation around the globe, while pursuing more usable nuclear weapons options here at home." However, the FY06 budget request includes $4 million for RNEP and an additional $4.5 million to modify the B-2 bomber to carry the weapon.
The RNEP design: Weapons designers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory intend to use an existing high-yield nuclear warhead—the 1.2-megaton B83 nuclear bomb—in a longer, stronger and heavier bomb casing. The B83 is the largest nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, and nearly 100 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb used on Hiroshima.
According to several recent scientific studies, RNEP would not be effective at destroying many underground targets, and its use could result in the death of millions of people.
RNEP would produce tremendous radioactive fallout: A nuclear earth penetrator cannot penetrate deep enough to contain the nuclear fallout. Even the strongest casing will crush itself by the time it penetrates 10-30 feet into rock or concrete. For comparison, even a one-kiloton nuclear warhead (less than 1/10th as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb) must be buried at least 200-300 feet to contain its radioactive fallout. The high yield RNEP will produce tremendous fallout that will drift for more than a thousand miles downwind. As, Linton Brooks, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration told Congress in April, "the laws of physics will [never allow a bomb to penetrate] far enough to trap all fallout. This is a nuclear weapon that is going to be hugely destructive over a large area" if it goes off underground.
RNEP could kill millions of people: A simulation of RNEP used against the Esfahan nuclear facility in Iran, using the software developed for the Pentagon, showed that 3 million people would be killed by radiation within 2 weeks of the explosion, and 35 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would be exposed to increased levels of cancer-caus
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