Last year, the Bush administration sought $15.5 million for a three-year program called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator Program (RNEP), to study usable nuclear weapons. This program would try to build two large weapons with yields as high as one megaton – approximately 70 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

During the Senate’s consideration of its version of the 2003 defense spending bill, Democrats eliminated the $15.5 million. The House version, however, contained the full amount for RNEP.

During the Senate-House conference on the bill, the funding was restored and the Department of Energy was allowed to keep its plans for the money secret.

In his current budget request, Bush has asked for $15 million for the second year of the RNEP study. He has also asked for $6 million for advanced nuclear weapons concepts, to conduct a nuclear weapons test, and money to accelerate the design and construction of a new, multi-billion-dollar facility (plutonium pit) to manufacture the plutonium component of nuclear weapons.

Bush also demanded the repeal of the long-standing ban on research, production and development of new, low-yield nuclear weapons of five kilotons or less, roughly one-third the size of the Hiroshima bomb.

In June, the Senate finished writing its version of the 2004 defense spending bill. Senate Democrats say that the parts of the bill relating to nuclear weapons take us in a dangerous direction away from our commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The Bush administration has made it clear that it intends to make usable nuclear weapons and to find ways to use nuclear weapons. Linton Brooks of the National Nuclear Security Administration, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces last April, said, “I have a bias in favor of the lowest usable yield … I have a bias in favor of things that might be usable.”

Armed Services Committee Republicans approved the repeal of the ban. Without this ban, there would be no stopping research, development, testing, production or deployment of Bush’s new nuclear weapons.

Democrats failed to preserve the ban in the full Senate but did pass an amendment that requires congressional authorization for developing new nuclear weapons.

At a time when the U.S. government is trying to stop other countries from building nuclear weapons programs, and since it went to war with Iraq using the issue of weapons of mass destruction, Bush’s eagerness for new nuclear weapons sends a hypocritical and dangerous message.

Bush’s policies will restart the nuclear arms race and undermine his argument to other countries that they shouldn’t develop or test nuclear weapons. These policies can only revive the dangers to human survival that we thought ended with the cold war. Let’s tell Congress no more nuclear weapons – disarmament now. Let’s vote against candidates in 2004 who want to follow Bush’s life-threatening path.

Joel Wendland is associate editor of Political Affairs. He can be reached at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net