US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday asked Congress to agree $8.5m of funding for research into a ground-penetrating nuclear weapon which would address what Rumsfeld considers the growing problem of potential enemies burying vital installations deep underground. Last November, Congress pulled the plug on $27m earmarked for a study into the "Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator", Reuters reports.
Rumsfeld was at pains to point out that Pentagon wants the cash purely for research - not to build an actual weapon. He said: "The only thing we have is very large, very dirty, big nuclear weapons," adding: "It seems to me studying it [the RNEP] makes all the sense in the world."
California Democratic Senator, Dianne Feinstein, countered: "It is beyond me as to why you're proceeding with this program when the laws of physics won't allow a missile to be driven deeply enough to prevent deadly radioactive fallout from spewing into the air after a nuclear detonation."
Rumsfeld reported that the Pentagon estimates 70 countries are currently constructing subterranean facilties beyond the reach of the US's nuclear arsenal. Quite how it arrived at this figure is unclear. ®