WASHINGTON – A House subcommittee told the administration Wednesday to rethink some of its plans for nuclear weapons, including development of a "bunker buster" warhead.
The panel refused to provide money for development of a nuclear bunker buster (search), a weapon that can destroy a deeply buried target. It also denied funding for research into the feasibility of a low-yield "mini-nuke" warhead and for work on a new plant to produce plutonium triggers for the warheads.
The programs, while relatively small in terms of funding during the fiscal year beginning in October, have been a priority of the National Nuclear Security Administration (search), the Energy Department agency responsible for the nation's nuclear stockpile.
"We put the brakes on a number of new nuclear weapons initiatives," said Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, the subcommittee chairman.
"The NNSA needs to take a time-out on new initiatives until it completes a review of its weapons complex in relations to security needs, budget constraints and a (recently completed) new stockpile plan," continued Hobson.
The programs, which were left with no money, had been proposed as part of the $28 billion spending bill for energy and water programs approved by Hobson's Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday.
The panel eliminated $27.6 million for the bunker buster, $9 million for the mini-nuke research and $29.8 million for preliminary work on a trigger factory.
It also rejected $30 million the administration wanted so that the Energy Department could more quickly prepare for actual nuclear bomb testing, although Energy officials have emphasized there are no plans for resumption of testing.
Linton Brooks, head of the NNSA, has denied that the initiatives are aimed at anything other than better preparing the nuclear stockpile for future needs. There is no plan for renewed testing or development of new warheads, he has said.
But nonproliferation advocates have viewed these programs as signs of a more ominous agenda. Some programs - such as development of the bunker buster - may make it more likely that the nuclear option will be used, opponents say.
"The Bush administration is laying the groundwork for recurrent nuclear testing and deployment of new nuclear weapons. This is a clear response from Republicans in the House saying we don't need that," said Stephen Young, an analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists (search).
The House subcommittee slashed nearly in half the amount of money for beginning work on a new plant to convert plutonium to mixed-oxide fuel that can be used in commercial power reactors. The administration had wanted $368 million, but lawmakers cut that by $165 million.
The program is part of a joint venture with Russia for each country to get rid of 34 tons of excess plutonium in their weapons programs.
The action Wednesday makes it likely the funding will not be approved by the House. The Senate has yet to decide on whether it will make similar cuts.