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ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

New Nuclear Weapons vs. Nonproliferation: The Choice Before Congress
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MODERATOR:

DARYL KIMBALL,
ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION


SPEAKERS:

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY

DR. SIDNEY DRELL,
STANFORD UNIVERSITY

DR. MATTHEW MCKINZIE,
NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL

Tuesday, APRIL 29, 2003
Hall of States

 

Transcript by:
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

 

The Arms Control Association held a press briefing on the dangers posed by the Bush administration's initiatives to research new nuclear weapons. Congress is expected to begin debate on these proposals in upcoming weeks. This is a rushed transcript of the event.

The Panelists:


DARYL KIMBALL: Good morning, everyone. I'm Daryl Kimball - and we are having a few sound problems this morning and I apologize for that. Welcome to this morning's Arms Control Association briefing on "Nuclear weapons versus non-proliferation: The choice before Congress." The Arms Control Association is a private, non-partisan organization devoted to supporting effective arms control and nonproliferation strategies to reduce and eliminate the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. We're pleased to have this morning with us three very distinguished speakers to help us understand the choices facing Congress in the next few weeks on the Bush administration's proposals for research on new bunker busting nuclear weapons capabilities and its proposal to appeal the existing prohibition on research and development leading to production of low-yield nuclear weapons. That is five kilotons or below. We hope to address not only the political dynamics of these proposals but also the technical realities and the proliferation implications.

We have a couple of handouts on the table that elaborate on these issues, an Arms Control Association briefing paper. We have Dr. Sidney Drell's recent article from our journal, Arms Control Today, "New Bunker Busters Versus Nonproliferation," and I believe there's a draft report from NRDC that will soon be available on this subject that we'll let you know about.

Now, all of us here agree that these proposals are but the latest in a series of imprudent steps by the administration to develop a more flexible and aggressive nuclear force posture that threatens to undermine U.S. and global nonproliferation objectives. This includes the National Security Presidential Directive 17 that clarifies that nuclear weapons may be used in response to chemical or biological threats, and the Nuclear Posture Review that asserts that nuclear weapon capabilities are needed to defeat deeply buried and hardened targets. And the administration has taken steps to lower the barriers to resume nuclear testing which might be necessary to field these types of weapons.

Now, Congress is going to decide soon about whether to continue funding for the research on bunker busters and to repeal the ban on low-yield weapons research. The House and Senate Armed Services Committee will soon evaluate these issues, and our next speaker, Senator Edward Kennedy, is going to be in the middle of that discussion on Capitol Hill.

We're very honored to have Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts with us here today to share his perspectives on the Bush administration's more aggressive nuclear weapons policies in the upcoming debate. Senator Kennedy hardly needs an introduction but I'd just like to say that he certainly is, in the view of the Arms Control Association, one of our nation's foremost and stalwart advocates of sane nuclear policies from arms reduction agreements with Russia, to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty over the years, to vigorous inspections in Iraq. After he speaks I hope he'll have a few minutes to take some questions.

Thank you very much for being here, Senator Kennedy. The floor is yours.

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): Good morning. I'm grateful for the invitation to be here today and I thank Daryl Kimball for that generous introduction. I have great respect for the Arms Control Association and the wise leadership it continues to provide on key issues of arms control, especially nuclear arms control.

Of all the challenges we've faced over the past half-century, the prevention of nuclear war may be the most difficult and the most important. Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to other nations and to terrorists is the most urgent aspect of that challenge today. We all hope that the Bush administration will be successful in the current negotiations with North Korea and that the progress made in recent weeks will continue. Many of us are concerned, however, that certain steps taken by the administration in recent months are raising doubts about our own long-standing policy on nuclear weapons.

"More has changed on proliferation than on any other issue." CIA Director George Tenet made that statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee last February. Nowhere is this clearer than in the modifications that the Bush administration is making in nuclear weapons policy. Because of their unique and massive destructive power, nuclear weapons have always been kept separate from other weapons as part of our strong commitment to do all we can to see that they are never used again.

The reason the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1968 has been so successful is the presumption that nuclear weapons will not be used except in the most extreme circumstances. For 25 years, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have emphasized our commitment not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations. The assurance to other nations that nuclear weapons will not be used against them has been a major factor in avoiding nuclear war and reducing the nuclear arms race and preventing the proliferation of these weapons to other countries and to terrorists.

Control of current stockpiles is more critical than ever and the danger is very real that terrorists may be able to acquire nuclear material or nuclear warheads. Even before 9/11, Congress and the administration had recognized this threat. We enacted the Nunn-Lugar threat reduction program in 1991 to safeguard and reduce the arsenals of Russia and other former Soviet states, and it's been effective in deactivating or destroying literally thousands of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and hundreds of tons of fissionable material.

Nevertheless, shortly before President Bush's inauguration, the taskforce reported that the most urgent national security threat to the United States today is the dangers that weapons of mass destruction, or weapons-usable material in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home. On September 11th, terrorists clearly demonstrated their willingness and their ability to cause catastrophic damage to America, yet the Bush administration continues to spend less on the Nunn-Lugar program than we did before 2001. In January, the administration released a Nuclear Posture Review that could take us in a new and far more dangerous direction than before.

The review blurs the line between conventional and nuclear weapons. It suggests that certain events might compel the United States to use nuclear weapons first, even against non-nuclear nations. It also relies much more strongly on a nuclear threat by America in dealing with the difficult challenges we face in the world. The administration has even indicated that it might use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical or biological attack.

There is no justification for that kind of escalation. Our conventional weapons are more than adequate to deal with that threat. We gain no greater deterrent by threatening to go nuclear. It makes no sense to break down the firewall that we have always maintained between nuclear weapons and other weapons, and that has succeeded for over half a century in preventing nuclear war. Other nations have complied with this basic principle, too. A nuclear weapon is not just another item in our arsenal and it's wrong to treat it like it is.

The Review specifically discusses circumstances in which the United States might engage in the first use of nuclear weapons, such as a North Korean attack on South Korea or a military confrontation over the status of Taiwan. We also appear to be considering the use of nuclear weapons against Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. We reap what we sow, and if we brandish our nuclear weapons, we only encourage other nations to develop their own.

It's ominous as well that the administration is asking the weapons laboratories to consider the possibility of resuming nuclear testing to protect our current stockpile and to meet new requirements in the future. They've budgeted $700 million for fiscal year 2004 budget, including funds that could be used for new tests, and cut in half the time needed to conduct them. It makes no sense to abandon our moratorium on nuclear testing. That moratorium has stood for over a decade and it has served us well.

Last year the administration also requested $15 million, and it wants another $15 million this year, to study the feasibility of modifying existing warheads to create what they call "a robust nuclear earth-penetrator," a bunker buster with 10 times the size of the Hiroshima blast to be used to destroy hardened enemy targets buried deeply underground. The scientific community has raised serious questions about the need for this type of nuclear weapon and the danger it presents. A nuclear explosion in a bunker could spew tons of radioactive waste into the atmosphere, with a devastating plume that could poison huge areas in its path. Obviously developing such weapons would distract us from strengthening conventional weapons to fulfill this purpose.

Finally, the administration wants to lift the current statutory ban on low-yield nuclear weapons which now prevents the development of weapons with yields under five kilotons, about half the size of the Hiroshima blast. The precision guided munitions and standoff weapons we have today make these many nukes unnecessary. They would be no more effective than conventional munitions and would be far more dangerous to our troops. Some say that the long-standing firewall between nuclear and conventional weapons is making us more vulnerable to nuclear blackmail, and that lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons will make our own nuclear threat a stronger and more credible deterrent. That's the last thing we need. The obvious danger of change in policy is that they will encourage other nations to develop nuclear deterrents of their own. The entire world will be at greater risk that these weapons will be used, and used against us.

The real debate on these all-important issues of nuclear policy is only just beginning. Clearly these issues demand far more attention from Congress and the country. They have been eclipsed for too long by the war on terrorism and the war against Iraq. We can ignore them no longer. We have an obligation to our nation and our people and to all nations and all peoples to see that nuclear weapons are never used again.

I'll be glad to answer questions.

KIMBALL: Thank you, Senator Kennedy. Questions from the audience, please.

SEN. KENNEDY: If it doesn't make any difference I'll take them sitting down.

KIMBALL: Sure.

Q: -- from the Guardian. Do you feel this administration is serious about considering breaking the U.S. test moratorium? Do you see that on the horizon?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, what I'm outlining today, the statements and actions that they have made to date and also their request of the defense authorization legislation which is before our Armed Services Committee, I think what we ought to do is just take those actions and interpret them reasonably as to what their intention is. And I think that's going to be a matter that will be considered by the Armed Services Committee, the authorization, and I also think that there will be floor action as well. And I expect that debate to be some time probably before the Fourth of July.

I think we ought to follow the money request. The best way to follow - to get the indication of the seriousness of the administration is to follow the request of the money, defense authorization in the various categories, and it is as I've outlined here today, and that's, I think, the clearest indication of where they're going besides the statements that they've made.

KIMBALL: Thank you. Other questions? Pat Towell.

Q: Pat Towell, Congressional Quarterly. Senator, on the Spratt-Furse amendment that they want to repeal, last year they said - and they said again this year their intention is not, in fact, to begin developing a warhead but rather to pass - this legislation is drafted so broadly that it inhibits research intended for other purposes that could theoretically be seen. And so, in the House they were willing last year to work out a deal that would narrow the scope. I mean, does that final approach appeal to you at all?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I think Congressman Spratt has addressed that and is the author of that amendment for very good and sound purposes and still strongly committed to it. We would certainly consider any proposal, but the underlying principle I think still remains sound and is one that should be defended. Obviously, if the administration has some other points in mind they can be considered, but the basic concept, the basic principle, is still as compelling today as it was at the time that it was adopted and is a principle that I would strongly support and urge my colleagues to.

KIMBALL: Yes, sir.

Q: (Off mike.) You mentioned the Bush report about the possible use of weapons in a North Korea/South Korea situation, Taiwan, China. Can you give us your sense of what the situation is now with North Korea, and if these weapons - if there's any connection between bunker busters and developing them and asking for money for them and the administration's policy toward North Korea?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I think their position is independent, maybe. In terms of the particular negotiations that are taking place now, I think - there may be others that want to draw other conclusions - but I think that their position in terms of the development of bunker-busters has been there for a longer period of time than these more recent negotiations with North Korea.

I think what is happening in the North Korean situation - the nature of these discussions is basically positive. I think both sides have been stating their positions. As negotiators we understand that the North Korean position as stated is not going to be wholly acceptable to us, and either is our position to them. That's the nature of the negotiations. And I think that that is certainly hopeful; I think it would be. And it's quite clear from the statements and comments that the actions that have been taken by the administration in opening up these discussions have been supported by the Chinese, by the South Koreans, and by the Japanese as well. And I think that we should certainly pursue them, and very hopefully we will.

I think it's understandable that you have a variety of different issues that are involved: the nuclear weapons grade plutonium and the nuclear weapon that the North Koreans have, the danger that that poses as well as their missiles; their desire, if they are going to give those up, about the dangers of aggression to them, their own security; and they've obviously got economic challenges as well. And these are matters that I think are pretty increasingly well understood by all the sides of this and I would certainly hope that the continued discussions would take place. Don't call them discussions, call them negotiations, but whichever word you want to use, it's very important, I think, in terms of trying to work through a safer and more secure region.

KIMBALL: Yes, ma'am.

Q: (Off mike) Can you discuss the report on the [robust nuclear earth penetrator] that the Pentagon released last month to the Armed Services Committee, and are you or anyone else on the committee fishing for an unclassified version to be released?

KIMBALL: The robust nuclear earth-penetrator report that was filed earlier.

Q: Last month, was it?

SEN. KENNEDY: Yeah, well, I can - rather than just on the particular details, I think that, quite clearly, as I mentioned, I have very serious reservations about it. I think that whatever can be achieved in terms of any projections that I've seen in the Armed Services Committee about nuclear [use] are well within the range in terms of conventional, and that obviously has very important and significant advantages, for the reasons I've outlined: the dangers of using the nuclear weapons and the risks that are out there in terms of our own personnel.

And I think that that's also true with regards to the statement that the administration has at least left open for countries that are going to use weapons of mass destruction, for example, whether they use bioterrorism or chemical warfare. We can deal with those situations with a conventional force. Again, the use -- we can clean up a chemical and biological attacks but cleaning up a nuclear is far more dangerous and more difficult and poses much greater threats in terms of American troops.

Finally, I think, going down that road in terms of threatening use against countries, the fact is that the terrorists today are going to be - if they're going to use any of these they're going to use them from countries that may very well be countries which are not harboring or supporting these terrorist activities and which the surrounding populations are completely innocent from these kinds of situations. I think we're much better off not threatening [nuclear use in] these situations and I think we ought to continue what steps have been taken, and they're very robust steps in the development of conventional forces, and maintain what is the most basic and fundamental issue, and that is the firewall that has existed between the use of nuclear weapons of all forms and shapes and conventional forces. That is a firewall. You have to understand, it's a firewall.

Many of us have serious questions about the administration's statements and comments that seem to blur this, the whole series of comments. Even [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair in the Iraq situation indicated very clearly that he could not foresee any circumstances whatsoever where nuclear weapons would have been used. That kind of clarification was not as clear in terms of our own homeland.

KIMBALL: Thank you. Yes, sir.

Q: David Kassomel (ph), National Public Radio. Do you worry at all about the loss of expertise in the weapons (inaudible)?

SEN. KENNEDY: I think others who are more competent to really speak to that. I think it's better that those that can answer that more completely, knowledgably and competently, speak to that.

DR. SIDNEY DRELL: Just look at their budgets recently.

KIMBALL: Yes?

Q: Senator Kennedy, I was hoping that you could just comment on your concerns vis-à-vis developments with the Nuclear Posture Review and the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons and Russia.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, we still have, obviously, a very important ways to go, with regards to tactical nukes, with [Russia]. I mean, we welcome the fact of this last treaty with [Russia], but the fact remains that the tactical nukes are still out there, and this remains a very important factor and force and more has to be done in that area. There was a criticism in the last treaty. It was that we did not take more - well, there's several, but this is certainly one of them - that strategic weapons weren't being disposed - destructed - but the fact that we were not taking steps in the tactical area, and that remains an area of enormous potential and importance and it ought to be an objective of national policy to address that in a more comprehensive way.

And I imagine -- as I see heads nodding here -- there will probably be some important recommendations on it, but clearly that's an area that I think ought to be a prime area of interest and initiation, hopefully, in terms of [reducing] the dangers and the proliferation not only in tactical weapons but also there ought to be additional kinds of support in terms of Nunn-Lugar, and there also ought to be an extension in terms of Nunn-Lugar to deal with bioterrorism. That's an area where the security issues are in terms of the protections of the materials in the Soviet Union, particularly of greatest concern.

Here this morning you can hear a great deal of information about the nature of the protections of materials and the dangers of proliferation of the nuclear, but in the area of bio it is much more significant and much - I mean, in terms of security, the protection of it, it needs a lot more attention, and many of us are hopeful that the extension and expansion of Nunn-Lugar would include those scientists and researchers and also those security interests as well. Very little is being done, but I know Senator Lugar has been interested in that as well.

KIMBALL: I think it would be fair to say that the further U.S. pursuit of new types of nuclear weapons or modifications, whether they're high-yield or low-yield, would complicate efforts to try to deal with the tactical weapons in the former Soviet Union.

If there are no further questions we'll go on to our next speaker. I want to thank Senator Kennedy very much for his remarks and leadership, and we wish him -

SEN. KENNEDY: I'm going to stay here a little while and listen.

KIMBALL: Because you want to see the presentation. Excellent, thank you. So, thanks again.

SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

KIMBALL: So, Dr. Drell.

(Applause.)

DRELL: Senator Kennedy has touched just about every important point and I'm going to make some comments upon technical issues, but I have to make a few comments based upon his statement, which was excellent, because the firewall between nuclear weapons and any other weapon is an extraordinarily important wall to protect. Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction. There are weapons of terror, like biological and chemical; nuclear weapons are unique.

I want to read a very brief statement made 15 years ago at a conference out at Stanford by Father Bryan Hehir, a priest and also for a while headed the Divinity School at Harvard, who played such a major role in the Catholic bishops' letter in the '80s, pastoral letter on nuclear weapons. It just puts what we're talking about in context before we get down to technical details. This is what he wrote:

"For millennia, people believed that if anyone had the right to call the ultimate moment of truth, one must name that person God. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, we have progressively acquired the capacity to call the moment of truth, and we are not gods but we must live with what we have created."

And I think one should keep that in mind, this terrible idea that nuclear weapons are an answer to chemical or biological weapons, or that they might be usable in tactical situations against a bunker or for this purpose. I think that's the most dangerous idea in the world that we face. For 58 years, since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have built the norm of nonuse of nuclear weapons, even though we've been involved in unwinnable wars, and so has the rest of the world, the Russians in Afghanistan for example. We have built a norm of non-possession. The nonproliferation regime has been a tremendous success. Only eight nations are known to have nuclear weapons today, out of 189. That's a far smaller number than was thought to be the case as one looked at prospects 40, 30 years ago.

We have found, with even an inadequate verification system, that Iraq and North Korea and Iran were on their way to nuclear weapons long before they got them. Let's make the nonproliferation regime stronger. Let's give the United Nations or the International Atomic Energy Agency broader power to inspect suspect sites that it does not have now. But we must preserve the nonproliferation regime. Look at the alternatives if more countries or terrorists get their hands on this material. And as Senator Kennedy said, the report by former Senator Howard Baker and White House counsel, Lloyd Cutler, said there's hundreds of tons of material in the former Soviet Union. Those are the greatest threats we face, and here we're spending one-third - less than one-third of 1 percent of our defense budget on that problem. That's terribly out of whack. So there are major problems, and I want you - please remember every major point the senator made because there was a wonderful summary. I'm going to talk about a few technical details, and they're important.

So you have to look at bunker busters and say, you know, what are they good for? What are they going to do? Well, why are we interested in them? It is true that there are now some 70 or so nations in the world that have become adept at digging deep bunkers, deep for storage. There are estimated by the intelligence community to be about 1,000 such sites for command and control, for storage of weapons. We have to do something about them. But what have nuclear weapons got to do with that? What have nuclear weapons got to do with that?

In fact, if you take those bunkers of serious concern that we talk about, they are things that have been hardened, like with concrete or granite or in hard rock, to stand 1,000 atmospheres of overpressure, and they're as deep as 1,000 feet. Let me tell you, you can look at all the small nuclear weapons you want, but if you're going to do any damage to some hard target at 1,000 feet, that's going to be more than 100 kilotons. I mean, this is physics; this has nothing to do with policy.

You're not talking about small, usable, low-collateral-damage weapons. If I just detonate one kiloton, one-thirteenth of Hiroshima, at a depth that I can reach physically without destroying the material that the bomb is encased in, which means at depths of less than 50 feet, there is no material that will take us lower that that, even if we slam them in at supersonic speeds. That one-kiloton is going to create a crater larger than the World Trade Center, larger than a football field. It's going to put a million cubic feet of radioactively contaminated dust into the atmosphere. That's much more collateral damage. And what's more, one kiloton isn't even going to get close to a deep, hardened, buried target. You have to get up to 100 kilotons. To contain 100 kilotons or so, you would have to detonate the weapon more than 1,000 feet below ground.

So what are we talking about when we talk about bunker-busters? We're not talking about low collateral damage, low-yield weapons. That's a physical myth - that's a myth. And so what we can do, as the senator said, what we can do is improve our conventional forces. It's important to be able to make our bombs, our conventional weapons, penetrate before they detonate. If you can penetrate an explosion on the order of 10 to 20 feet below the surface before it detonates -- you know, it's hardened enough so it doesn't destroy itself and it digs down on the order of 20 feet or so before it detonates, you can increase the shock delivered to a target by order of magnitude by a factor of 10 to 20. That is something very important to do.

Also, you have to know where the target is. Is it a tunnel of miles length? Where do you want to hit it, except finding an entrance and blocking it off? But you have to have accuracy. You have to know, where are the underground targets, what's their character, where, if there are serious materials in there that you want to destroy like biological agents or chemical weapons, where are they? You can't just - the need for good intelligence to increase the effectiveness on conventional forces, identifying targets, characterizing them, locating them, that's far more important than any marginal gain you're going to get out of a nuclear weapon.

Also the ability to deliver the munitions accurately. We've shown a great improvement in that capacity, especially most recently in Iraq. The effectiveness with which conventional weapons can increase their - the ability to increase their effectiveness goes up radically with good accuracy of delivery. In fact, over the years the laboratories, particularly Sandia, has had programs where they make, for conventional weapons, pilot holes. It takes one detonation to create a hole, and now, using GPS, the global position satellites, to follow beacons into the hole and have successive explosions, you can increase the depth to which you penetrate.

There have been some experiments that I'm aware of, done by people like Patterson and Young (sp). People have been working this problem for 30 years, which show that in hard granite-type targets, you can increase your penetration depth if you have a pilot hole from the previous explosion by as much as 30 percent. Against ordinary soil you can get 10 percent - 10-foot increases in depth.

So these are real things to do with conventional weapons, but the lure of nuclear weapons and trying to weaken that firewall that has, for 58 years, been so important to our survival in this world, that is a terrible thought, that's a dangerous thought. I want us to work hard to preserve what we have done so well at so far.

One final comment. When we talk about the nonproliferation regime, in getting the extension of the Nonproliferation Treaty at it's fifth and final schedule of review in 1995--that took place at the United Nations - in getting 185 nations of the world out of 189 to sign onto the nonproliferation treaty, the nuclear powers had to agree--it's not in writing on a treaty but they understood that the condition to get these countries to sign on was the assumption, the commitment that we would not test. That was explicit in getting the signature of many of these countries. If we were to, for some minor advantage, illusionary in part, of improving our ability to get buried targets by violating the Comprehensive Test Ban and resuming testing, we would lose enormous support for the nonproliferation regime.

As I said, all but four countries have signed on to that: India, Pakistan, Israel and now North Korea, which pulled out. So the Comprehensive Test Ban, or at least continuing the moratorium on testing, is a very important part of our facing the threat of nuclear weapons. And the Comprehensive Test Ban has been signed by 166 countries, been ratified by 97, and 31 of the 44 nuclear-capable powers that have to sign it before it comes into effect. There is the challenge to not only preserve the moratorium but to strengthen it, because once the Comprehensive Test Ban comes into effect there will be further strengthening of our ability to verify compliance.

So that, I think, is the challenge we face. And I think the senator has put out every important reason why.

KIMBALL: Thank you, Dr. Drell, for those excellent remarks. Let me just remind the audience that Dr. Drell is one of the nation's most trusted advisors on nuclear weapons issues--nuclear policy issues for decades. He's a member of the advisory committee for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a member of the JASON group at the MITRE Corporation, which has advised the Defense Department and the Department of Energy for many years on these issues.

Next we'll hear from Dr. Matthew McKinzie, who is with the nuclear program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who is a physicist who has worked as a post-doctoral associate at the Cornell University Peace Studies program before joining NRDC in 1997. Dr. McKinzie is going to provide us with a visual demonstration of many of the facts that Senator Kennedy and Dr. Drell have laid out, demonstrating the potential effects of the collateral damage of an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon on possible targets.

Matt, are we almost there?

MATTHEW MCKINZIE: Almost there. One second.

KIMBALL: Okay. Let me also note, for those of you who may have come in late, that one of the reasons why we're putting together this press briefing today is because the Senate Armed Services Committee will, in the next few days, be considering the proposal put forward by the administration in it's defense authorization request for fiscal 2004. The committees are scheduled to look at this issue over the next two to three weeks. A bill will then move to the floor by probably the July Fourth recess, or thereabouts. These issues are very much on the agenda of the Congress and these watershed decisions will be happening very soon.

Matt, are we -

MCKINZIE: I think we're ready. All right, well, sorry for the change in venue here. It's an honor to be on this panel, I have to say, as the junior member. The topic of my presentation, I wanted to provide some sort of graphical examples of both the properties of these weapons and their employment. And what I'll first discuss, at NRDC, as of yesterday, our understanding is that in fact there may be two contexts in which these weapons could be developed and employment options that could be considered.

One context should be called - really thought of as strategic. Earth-penetrating weapons were originally developed in a strategic context in which targets were in Russia and, to a much lesser extent, China, countries with which the U.S. has a deterrent relationship. These weapons were thought of as part of the SIOP, or Single Integrated Operational Plan, the nuclear war plan of the U.S., and targeted destruction for earth-penetrating weapons is really the primary criteria when considered in a strategic mode. So this is the region of higher nuclear explosive yields.

The other context is regional or tactical use, and that has already been discussed in this panel, but here we're talking about targets in countries with regional or emergent weapons of mass destruction capabilities, such as Iran, Syria or North Korea. In this case, target destruction criteria for weapons design is really balanced against minimizing what's called collateral effects, or death and injury due to the radioactive fallout. So those are really the two contexts in which earth-penetrating weapons will be designed - may be designed and employment considered.

Now, I wanted to address two technical issues which Dr. Drell has already addressed. One is the coupling of the energy from the nuclear explosion to the earth to destroy underground structures. What do you buy with an earth-penetrating weapon as opposed to one that explodes on the surface? And the second is the fallout from a nuclear explosion. How does that fallout change if you bury the nuclear burst before it goes off?

Now, about a week ago we got an unclassified paper by a weapons designer named Gerald Marsh. It was tremendously informative. On paper at least, it looks like you can replace, in terms of target destruction capabilities, a megaton-class thermonuclear weapon, which is a weapon with a nuclear explosive yield in the range of tens of kilotons. And that's what this graph right here would show you, which is a combination of data points and a fit to those data points.

Basically this--it's a logarithmic graph; on this side the fraction of nuclear explosive energy that goes into destroying an underground target. And on this axis you have what's called the scaled depth of burst. So for contact burst, or a proximity burst of a nuclear explosion, you're looking at basically a factor of 10 or more compared to penetrating even several meters into the ground. So this is the amount of energy available - a small fraction of the energy is available down here to go into the ground and destroy things. Much larger fractions, 50-60 percent, of the energy is available when you bury the weapon even a short distance, several meters. So on paper at least, this is the quote, unquote "appeal" of an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon.

Now, the issue of fallout. I'm going to show you some fallout calculations that we put together for this briefing at NRDC. When you calculate the fallout of a nuclear explosion, there are basically several important variables. One is the explosive yield of the nuclear weapon, obviously higher yield, more fallout. The second factor is what's called the height of burst, or how high above the ground the weapon goes off, or the depth of burial, how deeply it's buried. Above a certain height of burst, above a certain altitude, no local fallout is predicted, and that's what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the weapons went off about half a kilometer above the surface of the earth.

The type of nuclear weapon really matters a lot for fallout, whether it's a simpler fission design or a thermonuclear weapon, which would produce yet less fallout per kiloton of yield. The winds are tremendously important. The mushroom cloud basically is blown by winds, not just the winds acting at the surface of the earth but tens of miles up if the explosion is large enough. And finally, weather: if it's raining out, whether there are mountains in the vicinity, all these things enter into assessment of fallout.

Now, if the weapon is buried below a certain depth in the medium, then no fallout would be predicted. You would have what's called a contained burst. In the fallout code we use in the Department of Defense there's a simple formula for calculating how deep the weapon needs to go not to produce fallout, and it's actually quite deep, even for fairly low-yield weapons. This is half a kiloton. The code would estimate that there would be no fallout if it was buried more than about 55 meters or so, 150 feet. At the Nevada test site they have a slightly more conservative formula for predicting no fallout, based on preventing exposure to test personnel.

Now, I used our code, and I'll show you more explicit calculations in a bit, but I wanted to explore how the extent of fallout varies as you vary a weapon. And I was very surprised to see this result, that as you penetrate the earth and the weapon goes off, you actually produce more fallout for fairly shallow dept of burst, and then the fallout diminishes. And that's because the fireball is more efficiently scooping out material from the earth; that material is mixing with the radioactive debris and falling out within tens of kilometers or more around the ground zero.

Now, what computer code did we use to calculate fallout for this presentation? It's really an amazing piece of software called HPAC. It's produced by SAIC, a Department of Defense contractor to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. It is unclassified. It's not generally available, but an NRDC officially obtained a copy, with the intervention of a member of Congress, and the code is incredibly capable. It calculates a variety of things, not just nuclear weapons but also radiological weapons, so-called dirty bombs, chemical or biological weapon use, or accidents at nuclear facilities. It has data in the code for all nuclear facilities worldwide.

Now, HPAC itself is very close to the U.S. nuclear war-planning process. Despite the fact that it's unclassified, what you're seeing here are fallout patterns - lt;em>(audio break) - and what we've done at NRDC in years past, we've used a code called KD53 (ph), developed at Livermore, to understand in greater detail the U.S. nuclear war plan, or SIOP. So this is the fallout pattern we calculated using a Livermore code from attacking Russian - alert Russian ICBM silos at a place called Kozalsk (ph), and this is the equivalent calculation using HPAC. So I feel fairly confident that at least as far as fallout goes, we do have a handle on the phenomenology and on the many inputs to the code.

There's a lot in there and I - in this code, and probably the subject of a report, but one piece of information that I just found utterly fascinating was buried in the help file for the code. It was a tutorial on how you use nuclear weapons to target biological facilities. There was a training objective--there was a test afterwards for the individual who went through this exercise, and basically this training manual was about how you choose proper yield and height of burst to target a biological weapons facility so as to minimize the amount of agent released and the amount of fallout produced.

Now the last topic of my presentation: earth-penetrating nuclear weapon employment. I thought here what I would do is sort of step through the different phases of employment and then choose hypothetical targets for such an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon in North Korea. And in doing so I came to believe that no rational decision-maker would choose to use the existing earth-penetrating nuclear warhead that we have on our arsenal, the B61 Mod 11, of which we have about 50 in our arsenal.

This map here shows sort of the backend of deployment. It's a map of the United States, obviously, and what I've labeled on this map are three sites in the United States: the White House, the Office of the President -- the president of the United States has the ultimate authority to authorize the use of nuclear weapons -- Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which is the location of all nuclear weapons planning, targeting, acquisition and planning for the use of nuclear weapons; and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, where the B-2 bombers are deployed.

Thanks to the Internet revolution we can actually see what a U.S. nuclear bomber base looks like simply by downloading an aerial photo from an Internet site. So the U.S. conducts aerial photo surveys and then typically state governments post these aerial photo surveys on their Internet sites. And, in fact, this was an aerial photo survey of Missouri, and this is the B2 bomber base, and if one zooms in one can actually see a B2 parked in the parking area. And more disturbingly, one can also see the nuclear weapons storage bunker. That bunker is associated with this base, so it's a facility within the Air Force base quite close to the B2 parking area. And it's a little hard to make out, but these are drive-in bunkers where nuclear weapons would be stored, and presumably the B61 Mod 11s are there awaiting use.

Now, actual calculations. I looked at really two scenarios, two simple scenarios. One looked at how an earth-penetrating warhead and the nine-megaton bomb that the B61 Mod 11 was intended to replace and what the fallout patterns would look like if those weapons were targeted against a bunker outside Pyongyang or the mountainous area just across the border near Seoul. So let's zoom into the Pyongyang area. Now, again, quite incredibly, the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which is an agency within the Department of Defense, actually publishes 10-meter resolution imagery of all of the Korean Peninsula, so this is - and it's painstaking to sort of download it all and get it into focus, but I've done so for this and for other presentations.

And you can learn a lot about North Korea, about the demilitarized zone, from this 10-meter imagery that, again, is freely available for those who have the time to download from NIMA's website. And if you look just west of Pyongyang there is an interesting--there is a mountain here, or hill, and what I postulated in this calculation was that this hill, which is adjacent to both military airfields and heliports, might have a leadership or command and control function in a bunker inside it.

The second target--potential scenario I looked at--again, I tried to be plausible here without knowing an awful lot, frankly, about the deployment of - without knowing a lot about North Korean leadership sites, but it's been widely reported that in the mountains just across the border from South Korea are many tunnels in which there are artillery guns on rail cars, and these can be rolled out, and because they are sort of between 40 and 60 kilometers from Seoul, they could represent a threat to the--an immediate, quickly deployed threat to the South Korean capital. So, again, here's the 10-meter image that shows this sort of mountainous area and you do see sort of hints of facilities in this sort of one mountainous area and then another one here even closer to Seoul.

So, just to show you the calculations quickly--it never ceases to sort of stun me how comprehensive the fallout patterns can be from a large-yield nuclear explosion, but here is the fallout patterns from the weapon that the B61 Mod 11 was intended to replace. So it's a nine-megaton weapon--nine-megaton gravity bomb that was replaced by a weapon that probably has a yield around 100 kilotons, so it's--but with its earth-penetrating capabilities it has presumably equivalent, or nearly equivalent capabilities to damage underground facilities.

So this is the fallout pattern that would be produced, using historical weather data from the month of April. The fallout from a nine-megaton weapon is just immense, and you can see why it - the innermost fallout pattern is for a lethal dose to an individual who was in this zone and had no sheltering for the first 48 hours after the attack. And one caveat too, this fallout pattern was calculated irrespective of mountainous terrain that might be in the path of the fallout pattern. And then, similarly, this is the same fallout pattern from a nine-megaton nuclear weapon targeted at that mountainous area here, so in fact covered with substantial fallout. So, again, it's just impossible to imagine that a rational leader would choose to employ such a weapon in such a context.

The code calculates casualties. The casualties from such a calculation are based on a worldwide gridded population density that was developed by the U.S. National Laboratories specifically for nuclear weapons modeling. And the casualties from the nine-megaton explosions are from six to 14 million people. By comparison, here is the weapon that's in the U.S. arsenal today. These are the smaller fallout patterns, less extensive fallout patterns produced by 100-kiloton earth-penetrating weapon. But again, the casualties from the intense fallout patterns--and this was not for--these calculations were not sort of a worst-case scenario where the fallout would blow directly over in an urban area, this was just typical weather in April, but the casualties there number in the hundreds of thousands.

So with that I'll conclude this presentation. What I wanted to do was to provide an overview of some technical issues associated with earth-penetrating weapons and then to make this issue more concrete by showing an exclusive targeting of a country of concern with these nuclear weapons and the fallout patterns produced.

Thank you.

KIMBALL: Thank you. Thank you very much, Matthew. I think that gives us a very disturbing look at what we're talking about here beyond the words and the intellectual theories. We'd be happy to take questions, further questions from the audience about these presentations for the next few minutes for Dr. McKinzie or Dr. Drell.

Senator Kennedy.

SEN. KENNEY: Dr. Drell talked earlier in his presentation about the limitations that you had in terms of the penetration, except in those charts that you showed it showed a very extensive penetration with very extensive kilotons.

MCKINZIE: In the bar graphs?

SEN. KENNEDY: In the bar graphs. So, can you relate those together? I mean, how realistic, given what Dr. Drell said--your other, going up to 160 meters underground. I have to--probably some misunderstanding. What is the current technology in terms of being able to reach that other depth?

MCKINZIE: I'll just clarify. The bar graph was meant to illustrate, irrespective of what the capabilities are to penetrate to a certain depth, how far you had to penetrate to preclude fallout. And then if you actually put a line on that graph as to where we are, it was almost all the way to the left. The B61 Mod 11 penetrates maybe several meters in frozen tundra.

KIMBALL: Dr. Drell?

DRELL: Yes, the fact is - he just showed that you'd have to penetrate much deeper than we are able to, or we will ever be able to, given the limits of material because you're not going to, without the material, the metals liquefying, ever get below 50 feet unless you develop a tactic for successive pilot holes and drilling your way in, in which case then you can be dealing with conventional weapons just as well.

SEN. KENNEDY: So it's basically theoretical.

DRELL: Absolutely.

SEN. KENNEDY: Everything to the right of that is all just theoretical in terms of physics, but in practical terms, where the technology is as reflected in that presentation, that showed the plume effect, that's where we are today.

DRELL: Just make sure the numbers are right. A five-kiloton weapon, the kind that is limited by the Spratt legislation, you have to dig down about 350 feet deep in order to get no fallout, but in fact we don't know how to go below 50. So that gives you the perspective.

KIMBALL: David?

Q: How bad is the fallout from a five-kiloton weapon if it's not 350 feet but it's 50 feet?

MCKINZIE: If it's 50 feet?

Q: So that's sort of the limit of what we can do, right? We can go down 50 feet, and say it's the lower-yield weapon.

MCKINZIE: Well, I can calculate that for you in a second, but -

Q: I mean, those are all big - those are all 500 - what was it, 100 kilotons, right?

DRELL: A reference number that's useful is that, again, your one-kiloton will give you a million cubic feet of dirt with radioactive contamination, and from there on it depends upon the weather patterns, the terrain and whatnot. But it's a huge crater--it's a huge crater. That's from one kiloton down at a level of 20 to 50 feet. It doesn't matter where you put it.

KIMBALL: In the back please.

Q: (Off mike.)

MCKINZIE: Well, I wouldn't expect such a weapon to be appropriate for missile sites because of the long time it takes to deliver a bomb to a target, and a missile site is a high--in terms of nuclear war planning, it's a high-priority target. The intent would be to destroy it as soon as possible so the missiles couldn't be launched.

Perhaps Dr. Drell has a -

DRELL: What was the question?

KIMBALL: The question was about the potential fallout effects of nuclear use in the Taiwan Straits situation. So I don't know if you can answer that because there are a lot of variables there.

DRELL: There are many variables, and it depends upon the weather and whatnot. I can't give you a number. The fact is you'll get radioactive surge coming from these craters, which is quite extensive. I would not give a number without saying - this assumption of weather and whatnot, it's considerable.

KIMBALL: Other questions? Yes, Tim?

Q: Matthew, can you explain a little bit more the two diagrams you did. Are those weapons that we have now?

MCKINZIE: The two diagrams -

Q: If you could just be more - explain more carefully, you know, the two diagrams, the two estimates you made. Are they weapons that we now have and that could be used, or are you talking about something not developed?

MCKINZIE: You mean the larger and the smaller fallout patterns.

Q: Yes.

MCKINZIE: The larger was from the nine-megaton gravity bomb. That is a weapon no longer in our arsenal that the B61 Mod 11 replaced with a lower yield because it had earth-penetrating capabilities. The B61 Mod 11, we have about 50 in our arsenal right now. So I was contrasting an old retired weapon and a currently deployed weapon.

Q: Okay, so what I'm trying to get at is what is the current capability then, the threat of dropping or using a nuclear - a weapon like that in those mountains north of the DMZ or in the area near Pyongyang? What is your estimate of what the ramifications of such a use of a weapon - what you said, probably no one sane would do but -

MCKINZIE: Well, it was the second set of estimates. That was for the B61 Mot 11.

DRELL: This is one of the problems that we face, which can have various people giving different views. We had a nine-megaton, the old B53. It was an unsafe, huge bomb. That was the first set of calculations. By taking an existing bomb, the B61, one of its many versions, B61-7, and putting it in a hardened reentry vehicle, we made it possible for that to dig into the earth some few meters. I can't give a number; it depends on the soil very much, and that gave the second set that he gave.

That raises the question - and this is what one has to answer seriously--well, maybe if we were to work on taking a smaller-yield bomb and putting it in a hard reentry vehicle so it could penetrate to the full 50 feet, or at least more than a few meters down to 30 or 40 feet, you could reduce casualties further. Therefore, isn't that a good thing to do? You've made it a more credible part of your deterrent but you've also opened the question, are you making nuclear weapons more usable for tactical situations?

And so you have to join the problem: what are nuclear weapons for? Are they for defensive last resort or are they part of the tactical battlefield? If we, the [world's] most powerful country, stand up in front of the world and say, they're for our deterrent; we have to make better and more usable nuclear weapons, how can we encourage the rest of the world to think that they shouldn't do that too?

KIMBALL: Exactly.

DRELL: So, to go back to what Senator Kennedy said, we have to work to improve our conventional forces to meet our national security needs and not brandish the notion that we're going to use these terrible weapons, except for defense, as a last resort.

KIMBALL: I would just add also that the Nuclear Posture Review, which was the document that came out about a year and half ago that kind of undergirds a lot of this thinking, it was contradictory. On the one hand it suggested that the United States should minimize the role of nuclear weapons in its military and foreign policies, but it, at the same time, recommended the development of new capabilities. So the Bush administration is Jekyll and Hyde on this subject, and what is key right now is for the Congress to make it clear that we should not extend the role of nuclear weapons into this new realm, for all the reasons that Dr. Drell and the others have said.

Other questions? Yes, sir.

Q: Dr. Drell, one of the more seminal articles came out in the Federation of American Scientists by Dr. Nelson when he went through the reasons why we're looking at earth-penetrating weapons. He looks at the labs and he points out the fact that the labs are looking for munitions, that sort of thing, that they're looking for more exciting work. (Inaudible.) I'm wondering, if it's physically impossible, given the technology we have now, to accomplish the mission we've set out, why then are the labs so willing to lobby for this effort?

DRELL: Again, the labs, like the administration, you talk to different people you get different answers. First of all, the need to do this to attract good scientists or whatnot -- I think Senator Kennedy commented, you know, the labs have a very healthy budget for the Stockpile Stewardship Program, and the leaders of the laboratories have all made statements now which say that the Stockpile Stewardship Program is maintaining the current arsenal.

You know, in the beginning there were a lot of statements, when the Stockpile Stewardship program first started and we had the moratorium on testing, that we couldn't maintain a deterrent. That article, I believe, has been put to bed and it has now been replaced by another one by people who want to test, which says, well, we may need new weapons for new missions. And again, as Daryl said, you have Jekyll and Hyde statements. Read the testimony on April 8th by Admiral Linton Brooks, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. He says, we don't want to lower the threshold; we don't want to build more usable bombs. If you read his statement, there's nothing unexceptional in it, it's a good statement, but then you read the Nuclear Posture Review and they say, well, maybe we have to develop new ones.

Now, where do the labs come in on this? Obviously the laboratories are trying to maintain something I support, a good technical credibility to monitor and maintain our deterrent. We have a deterrent. In my mind we want to know that that deterrent we have is reliable and is safe, and that takes a very strong program with good people. So I believe the laboratories have to stay first rate because the argument that we can maintain a deterrent without testing depends upon confidence in our laboratories being able to assure us that our deterrent is safe and reliable, as long as we have one.

So the laboratories want to be able to challenge scientists with new work. Obviously it rankles them to say, I can't have somebody think about something, which in one interpretation of the Spratt amendment says, you know, I can't think about things less than five kilotons. There's something funny about that argument because first of all, as the papers Daryl has put together show, what the Spratt amendment limits is weaponizing for deployment, not thinking about it. And one shouldn't confuse that. I mean, how do you stop somebody from thinking about something?

You should also know--and the point I didn't make--the fact is that if you look at our arsenal--not our deployed arsenal, now, but weapons we have developed over a thousand tests during 50 years we have tested and developed every conceivable type of weapon, from a primitive one to a fancy one, from very low yield, even battlefield--like old Davy Crockett rockets and artillery shells, to very high-yield ones. The issue is not testing or developing new designs, it's deciding if you want to package one so it can penetrate deeper without destroying itself before detonating.

So there is understandably a tension, which I can appreciate, from the labs, saying, don't tell us we can't think about something. But in fact, I don't believe the Spratt amendment says you can't think about something. I think the proper answer on that question was given by the senator before he left. So they can think about many things. The only limit is, do you really want to go weaponize something for deployment? And their big question is, first of all, if you believe the danger of using low-yield nuclear weapons, but to my mind even more worrisome immediately is you tell the rest of the world, we're going to continue developing and deploying new weapons because we need them for our security but we're going to tell 188 other nations, you know, don't do it; you don't need them.

And so it's the impact on the nonproliferation regime that I consider far more important than being in the minutia of whether a lower-yield weapon that goes a little deeper will do a little bit more for a deterrent or not. And that's why I say the emphasis is on intelligence and accuracy in our conventional forces.

KIMBALL: I think we've got time for a couple more questions. Yes, sir?

Q: Jason Forrester, the Nuclear Threat Reduction Campaign. Matthew, on the North Korea side of things, back in the early '90s it's been widely reported that the Clinton administration considered the possibility of preemptive strikes against North Korea in the months before the agreed framework. I mean, with the great investigative skills that you all have, have you been able to ferret out exactly what were the strike packages they were considering at that point, in '93, '94, that Bill Perry and others were considering, whether it included nuclear weapons considerations, what Pyongyang - (inaudible) - the business of trying to get those hardened artillery positions in the mountainous region, it numbers in the hundreds, or something like that - something like 250 or something like that, artillery pieces.

So I was just wondering if you all have -

MCKINZIE: No, the closest thing we've got are nuclear - discussions about the use of nuclear weapons at the RAND Corporation in the Korean War context, which are most interesting, but that's it. And our capabilities were very different at that time.

Q: But I guess - and maybe Dr. Drell and maybe Daryl as well - have you all had any indications that the Clinton administration at that time had considered nuclear weapons to try to - (inaudible)?

DRELL: I know nothing about it.

KIMBALL: I don't think we were privy to those discussions, and I would be very surprised if nuclear weapons were the lead component in that discussion.

Q: Matthew, could you discuss again - I think maybe you touched on it in your presentation, but why does the fallout increase in these weapons?

MCKINZIE: The radioactive to reproduce a nuclear explosion--and, Dr. Drell, you may want to comment on this, too--they're very fine, very light particles, and unless they adhere to material from the ground in the vicinity of the explosion, they are lofted into the upper atmosphere, circulate around the hemisphere in which the explosion takes place, and fall down weeks later, much diluted, much less radioactive. But if the nuclear explosion--if the fireball comes into contact with the earth, then it scoops up material which mixes with the radioactive debris. And for a depth of burial, a shallow depth of burial, that's happening in a more efficient way.

DRELL: That's right. I mean, you're just digging up more dirt.

MCKINZIE: Yeah, another way to put it.

KIMBALL: Okay. Any other questions? Thank you very much.

DRELL: Daryl, I just want to comment on a previously - it occurs to me to say when you look back at the problem of 1993, 1994 when the Clinton administration was almost ready to go, remember what saved us. It was President Carter going over there and talking to someone. It shows you that what we really have to be dealing with in this era of non-usable nuclear weapons: diplomacy. We're not going to make progress in reducing nuclear danger by threats and coercion or whatnot; it's diplomacy. That's even more important when especially dealing with unusable weapons, and there is a very important lesson in that, I believe; the fact that President Carter went over there and headed off the confrontation before it got out of control.

KIMBALL: Yes, exactly. Preventing the threats before they emerge is our best and first line of defense, and at this stage in the Korean crisis we certainly can't give up on that. There is a lot further to go, but that's the key approach there, perhaps the only approach.

I want to thank everyone for being here, for paying attention to this issue. Just to sum up, there are key issues before Congress. We think it's clear that the costs of pursuing a path of new nuclear weapons development is extremely high. The benefits are, at best, marginal, and realistically, they're unrealistic.

There are four key things that can be done by the administration and Congress, I think, to set us on a better course. First of all, maintaining the prohibition on low-yield nuclear weapon research leading to production, the Spratt-Furse prohibition. Second, shifting the funding, the $15 million in the fiscal '04 defense authorization bill request from robust nuclear earth-penetrator research to conventional alternatives. [Third], reaffirming the United States' commitment to the nuclear test moratorium and making sure that the Stockpile Stewardship resources are focused on the surveillance and maintenance activities that most directly address the reliability issues of the existing arsenal. And finally, it's important for the president to clarify that the role of nuclear weapons in the post-9/11 age, so long as they exist, should be focused on deterring the use of nuclear weapons by others and not to cross the firewall that has existed for 58 years of nonuse.

So thank you very much for being here. I appreciate it. And we are adjourned.


(END OF EVENT.)

Posted: April 30, 2003