Nuclear Warhead Cut From Spending Bill

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Congress has cut all funding for continuing development next year of a new nuclear warhead from the omnibus domestic spending bill, handing the Bush administration a significant setback.

Instead, the measure, which Congress expects to vote on this week, directs the administration to develop and submit to lawmakers a "comprehensive nuclear weapons strategy for the 21st century," according to the draft report of the appropriations bill.

That strategy, to be prepared by the departments of Defense and Energy plus the intelligence community, is to contain a mission assessment of the new strategic nuclear deterrent, a definition of the weapons stockpile needed to carry it out, and the modernized weapons complex that could produce it and keep it reliable, the conference report says.

"Moving forward on a new nuclear weapon is not something this nation should do without great consideration," said Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles funding of the nuclear weapons program. With the end of the Cold War and a new threat from terrorists seeking nuclear materials, Visclosky said, "the U.S. needs a comprehensive nuclear defense strategy, and a revised stockpile plan to guide the transformation and downsizing of the complex . . . to reflect the new realities of the world."

Lawmakers directed that the $15 million approved last summer for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (RRW) be used for a new science program, termed Advanced Certification. That initiative would close gaps in the program currently used to certify that nuclear weapons retain their potency without the need for underground testing.

Such gaps, the conferees noted, were first pointed out in a report this summer by an independent advisory group. "Jason," a group of scientists that regularly advises the government on nuclear defense matters, recommended additional scientific steps along with independent peer review, rather than having one of the nation's nuclear labs overseeing the work of another.

A spokesman for the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the RRW program, announced disappointment in the conferees' action, saying it means "we will likely have to go down a path of a full-life extension program for nuclear weapons in our stockpile, which in the long run will be more costly, without introducing modern safety and security measures into our weapons."

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