ments for the RNEP; (2) the nuclear weapons employment policy for the RNEP; (3) the detailed categories or types of targets that the RNEP is designed to hold at risk; and (4) an assessment of the ability of conventional weapons to address the same types of targets that the RNEP is designed to hold at risk.”2 This congressional directive does not mention collateral effects, but the responding reports from the DOD and DOE discuss (without details) the general expectation that collateral effects would occur if the RNEP were to be used, and that such effects would be much larger if a nonpenetrating weapon were employed to destroy the same HDBTs.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and the Air Force have conducted and are continuing to conduct studies, modeling and simulations, and non-nuclear tests to achieve a better understanding of the complex phenomena involved if nuclear or non-nuclear weapons are exploded in or near the location of hardened WMD storage or production facilities. The Thermobaric Weapon Demonstration is an ongoing program to provide an air-to-ground weapon capability to functionally defeat hard and deeply buried tunnel targets—with an emphasis on those for protecting leadership and command and control facilities. Additionally, DTRA has a conventional Counterforce Agent Defeat program that is working specifically on developing weapons and weapon payloads effective against facilities containing chemical and biological agents. One of its products was the BLU-119/B agent defeat weapon, which uses a 2,000 lb blast/fragmentation warhead (modified MK-84) developed and fielded as the Quick Reaction program for Operation Iraqi Freedom to damage fixed biological and chemical targets without contaminating the area. In the early 1990s, there were studies and some R&D on a low-yield (less than 5 kiloton) precision nuclear weapon for the destruction of chemical and biological agents in hardened facilities. In 1994, under the Defense Authorization Act,3 Congress prohibited R&D that could lead to the production by the United States of a new low-yield nuclear weapon, including a precision low-yield warhead, which as of the date of the law’s enactment had not yet entered into production. This restriction was repealed in 2004 for R&D up to but not including the engineering development phase.


Section 1033 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107-314) directed the Secretary of Defense to request that the National Academy of Sciences study the anticipated health and environmental effects of nuclear earth-penetrator and other weapons.

As requested, the study examined the following:

  1. The anticipated short-term and long-term effects of the use by the United States of a nuclear earth-penetrator weapon on the target area, including the effects on civilian populations in proximity to the target area at the time of or after such use and the effects on the United States military personnel who after such use carry out operations or battle damage assessments in the target area.

  2. The anticipated short-term and long-term effects on civilian populations in proximity to a target area:

    1. if a nonpenetrating nuclear weapon is used to attack a hard and deeply buried target; and

    2. if a conventional high-explosive weapon is used to attack an adversary’s facilities for storage or production of weapons of mass destruction and, as a result of such attack, radioactive, nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons materials, agents, or other contaminants are released or spread into populated areas.

The National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academies, convened the Committee on the Effects of Nuclear Earth-Penetrator and Other Weapons under the auspices of the Division

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