|Donald Rumsfeld (l) and General Richard Myers testifying before Congress|
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called on Congress Wednesday to approve funding to study the development of both nuclear and conventional weapons that could penetrate underground facilities. The proposal has generated some opposition among members of Congress who are concerned that such weapons could cause considerable nuclear fallout.
Secretary Rumsfeld said readily available digging equipment can clear underground areas of solid rock the size of a basketball court, and six meters deep in one day. He says 70 countries have used such equipment to create underground facilities, which are beyond the reach of most current U.S. weapons, except one type.
"The only thing we have is very large, very dirty, big nuclear weapons," he said. "So the choice is, do we want to have nothing and only a large dirty nuclear weapon, or would we rather have something in between. That is the issue."
Secretary Rumsfeld was responding to a question from Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of California. She expressed opposition to the plan to spend more than eight million dollars next year to study the penetrating weapon, particularly if a long-discussed 100-kiloton nuclear option is chosen.
"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 retain the fallout which will spew in hundreds of millions of cubic feet," she said.
But Secretary Rumsfeld argued that while there might be some fallout from a nuclear earth penetrating weapon, it would be far less than the weapons available today to strike an underground target.
"We are proposing that some work be done to see if we're capable of developing or designing something that would give us the ability to penetrate, not with a large nuclear explosion, but penetrate either with a conventional capability or with a very small nuclear capability, in the event that the United States of America some point down the road decided they wanted to undertake that kind of a project," he said. "It seems to me studying it makes all the sense in the world."
Appearing with Secretary Rumsfeld at the hearing of a Senate subcommittee, the top U.S. military officer, General Richard Myers, said Senator Feinstein's concern about a large earth penetrating nuclear weapon is misplaced. He said the research planned for next year would only look at current conventional and small nuclear weapons to determine whether their casings can be hardened to enable them to penetrate underground facilities.