Administration Urges Full Warhead Funding

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Bush administration has told Congress that delays in funding for a new generation of nuclear weapons may require a return to underground testing to ensure that older warheads remain reliable.

The administration included the warning in a four-page statement on nuclear weapons signed by the secretaries of energy, defense and state and sent to Congress this week. The document defended the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead program, the funding for which is contained in fiscal 2008 authorization and appropriations bills still before Congress.

In their statement, the secretaries said, "Delays on RRW . . . raise the prospect of having to return to underground nuclear testing to certify existing weapons."

The White House had sought $82 million for the program and hoped to have Congress vote next year on proceeding with production of new warheads that could be deployed by 2012.

However, House and Senate committees have reduced the $82 million to prevent a congressional vote next year on the production phase. The committees have also included proposals in the bills for year-long studies that would lay out a detailed strategic nuclear weapons policy before Congress moves ahead with the warhead program.

The administration's statement, "National Security and Nuclear Weapons: Maintaining Deterrence in the 21st Century," said that a more detailed justification for the warhead program would follow.

The secretaries also said that the administration intended to achieve "an effective strategic deterrent at the lowest level of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security and our commitments and obligations to allies." They pointed to President Bush's directive that the number of operational deployed weapons will drop from about 6,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012 -- a level set by the agreement Bush signed with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2002.

The administration justified the RRW program as necessary to provide a safe and secure warhead for the next 25 years to replace weapons built for the Cold War era. The statement criticized the current lifetime extension program -- begun during the Clinton administration -- as requiring an excessive number of stockpiled warheads to make certain the country had enough for a deployed operational force of 1,700 to 2,200.

"We are committed to maintaining the nuclear weapons stockpile, but as our Cold War-era weapons age, this becomes more and more difficult and very costly," Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said yesterday. "This document clearly lays out the best actions we can take in the face of an uncertain future."

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and an advocate of the new warhead program, said yesterday: "I remain hopeful that Congress will fund the feasibility study of the Reliable Replacement Warhead, because it offers the best opportunity to transition from the large and highly specialized Cold War stockpile to a smaller, more secure and lower-cost deterrent in the future."

Stephen Young, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, described the secretaries' statement as "an almost desperate plea for support for the program, which provides nothing that would justify Congress funding it."

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