When Congress passed the $27.3 billion Water and Energy Authorization Bill on Nov. 18, lawmakers voted to do more than revamp harbors and fund physics labs; they also set aside money for new nuclear weapons research, and reduced the time it will take to fire up the nation’s nuclear testing grounds.
The bill included $6 million for "mini-nukes"
under 5 kilotons (a 13-kiloton bomb destroyed the Japanese city of
Hiroshima during World War II) and $7.5 million for "bunker
busters," designed to destroy underground targets.
Congress also committed $25 million to reducing "test readiness"
time for nuclear weapons-testing at the Nevada Test Site. The site
has been quiet since 1992, when the United States tested the last
of more than 900 nuclear bombs. Since then, scientists have used
computer modeling to make sure the nation’s nuclear stockpile
is "safe and secure," says Darwin Morgan, spokesman for the
National Nuclear Security Administration in Las Vegas.
The agency has kept the Nevada Test Site ready, so bombs could be
tested within two to three years if the need arose. Now, under the
new law, the site must be ready to roll in less than two years.
While Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, R, is against the federal
government’s plans to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain,
he’s not likely to oppose nuclear testing. "Historically, the
state has been pretty passive about weapons testing," says Bob
Loux, executive director of the state’s Agency for Nuclear
Projects. "Now, we have a Republican governor who defers to the
president on national security issues."