Nuclear warhead administered 'last rites'

By agency reporter
11 Jul 2008

Campaigners say that the US Senate has administered the 'last rites' to the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW).

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed an annual spending bill yesterday that rejected all funding for the new weapon.

The Senate's decision is the second year in a row that congressional appropriators have denied funding for the controversial program, and arms control advocates see little opportunity to restore money for the warhead during this abbreviated election year.

"This seals RRW's fate," said Devin Helfrich, who works for the Quaker group the Friends Committee on National Legislation. "Congress is on record for the second consecutive year firmly rejecting RRW. We don't see the next administration trying to revive this discredited program."

The weapons program was eliminated over strong objections from the retiring senior senator from New Mexico, Pete Domenici, who had been the warhead's most powerful congressional advocate.

The Senate action marks the culmination of a tumultuous career for RRW. A congressionally conceived program, initially, Congress was supportive of the program, but after funding RRW for three years, legislators became wary of the Energy Department's intentions for the new warhead. The administration appeared to have steered RRW away from its beginnings as a very limited program and a vehicle for stockpile reductions and transformed it into a plan to revamp the US nuclear weapons arsenal.

Legislators have also cited the lack of a comprehensive US nuclear weapons strategy on which to base future stockpile decisions as a reason for ending RRW.

Proponents of RRW argue that an aging nuclear arsenal requires new warheads, which would replace most of the existing arsenal. Opponents of the program fear that new nuclear weapons development could increase pressure for the United States to resume underground nuclear testing, encourage an arms race, and damage the ability of the United States to dissuade other nations from developing nuclear weapons.

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