Conferees Approve Study of Nuclear Bomb

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009

The first step toward rebuilding one of the nation's tactical nuclear weapons so it could be put in the stockpile well into the 21st century has been approved by House and Senate conferees.

The lawmakers permitted $32.5 million to be spent next year on feasibility, design and cost studies for the non-nuclear components of the B61-12 tactical nuclear bomb, according to their report released this week on the fiscal 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. The measure contains funds for the nation's nuclear weapons programs.

The rebuilding of the bomb has raised caused some members of Congress and anti-nuclear activists to question whether a new nuclear weapon is being assembled.

The Obama administration did not seek funds for studying the nuclear components of the B61-12, and the conferees made clear that no money could be spent for such a task without approval from the House and Senate Appropriations panels.

The Pentagon is midway through a congressionally mandated review to establish the Obama administration's nuclear weapons policies, including the number of weapons needed in the future. Called the Nuclear Posture Review, it is expected to be completed by the end of this year or early next year. The conferees said in their report that after that review, the National Academy of Sciences would look at the deterrence value of the B61 against nuclear terrorism and other military threats, and that the independent JASON Defense Advisory Group would determine whether the B61-12 can be considered reliable without nuclear testing.

The Bush administration had looked at replacing the current stockpile of high-yield nuclear warheads with new, longer-lasting and more secure weapons. One candidate was a new version of the B61.

Focus has also been on the B61 because it is the nuclear weapon currently deployed in Europe for use by NATO, and must either complete refurbishing or be rebuilt, as is being considered. In a speech last month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the Nuclear Posture Review "in one or two cases" will "probably [recommend] new designs" for nuclear weapons "that will be safer and more reliable."

The B61 was first produced in 1966, with the number increasing in the 1970s as new modifications were introduced. In 2000, models of the B61-7 and B61-11 were put into refurbishment programs to extend their lives for 20 years.

In their report, the conferees approved $9.9 billion for next year's operation of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the nuclear weapons program within the Energy Department.

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