Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Next generation of nukes may not happen

BETTER the devil they know, it seems. The US House of Representatives last week voted to deny any further funding for a programme to design the next-generation nuclear warhead. Money will instead go towards "sustaining and modernising" the nation's existing stockpile of more than 4000 warheads.

The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had argued that the Reliable Replacement Warhead was needed because it would be safer to stockpile and harder for terrorists to acquire and use. Electronic security features would render it useless in the wrong hands, and it would feature a new breed of explosives for triggering fission, making accidental detonation less of a risk. It would also need less fissile material, making it safer to stockpile. "Today's nuclear weapons were not designed with security and longevity as the top priorities," the NNSA said.

"Today's weapons were not designed with security and longevity as the top priorities"

Nevertheless, when the House Armed Services Committee revealed its 2009 Defense Authorization Bill on 15 May, it did not include the $33 million the NNSA had requested for next year.

Last week, there seemed a chance that this decision would be reversed after Republican Steve Pearce proposed an amendment to include the funding. However, on 23 May, 44 Republicans crossed the floor to vote against the programme with the Democrats, defeating the amendment by 271 votes to 145. The issue now moves to the Senate, which may yet grant the funding.

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