Senior members of the Bush Administration and some leaders of America's nuclear weapons laboratories have recently advocated that the United States develop a new generation of nuclear weapons: nuclear "bunker busters" for destroying hard and deeply buried targets, high-precision "mini-nukes" for reduced collateral damage, and agent defeat warheads for destroying stockpiles of chemical and biological (CB) agents.
Because they are intended to detonate below ground and have substantially lower yields than typical weapons in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, nuclear advocates have argued that these weapons will have "minimal collateral damage," and some have suggested they could be used near densely populated areas. However, simple physical arguments show that no EPW can penetrate deeply enough to contain the nuclear explosion and will necessarily produce an especially intense and deadly radioactive fallout. Furthermore, even an earth-burrowing nuclear warhead is unlikely to sterilize buried chemical or biological weapons. The explosion may simply disperse active CB agents into the environment.
A more sensible strategy would be to use conventional means to seal all entrances and exits to the facility, and keep them sealed until the territory can be captured and the agents carefully neutralized.
Bio: Robert Nelson is a Senior Fellow in Science & Technology
at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the research staff at the Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security. He is a heoretical astrophysicist by training, and now works on technical issues related to nuclear arms control, treaty verification and nuclear nonproliferation. His research and writing emphasize translating sound science into sound government