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Less fallout, more danger: US ‘low-yield’ warhead pushes Doomsday Clock closer to midnight

Less fallout, more danger: US ‘low-yield’ warhead pushes Doomsday Clock closer to midnight
A new “low-yield” US warhead is less powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima but more capable of igniting a nuclear conflict than bigger nuclear weapons, analysts believe.

Dubbed W76-2, the weapon is now being produced by the Pantex plant in Texas, according to Donald Trump’s nuclear posture review which he signed last year. The Trump administration – whose boss has already shown a fixation on building up nukes – claims the new “low-yield” warhead would give the US a more “flexible” deterrent.

The new “mini-nuke” has less velocity than the Hiroshima bomb as it was designed by taking away one stage from the original two-stage W76 thermonuclear device usually mounted on Trident ballistic missile. The new warhead’s explosive power was reduced from 100 kilotons of TNT, to around five.

Now, an enemy (Russia, for example) could no longer count on Washington being afraid of using its huge nuclear arsenal due to the unimaginable civilian casualties, the US administration says.

However, less damage doesn’t mean no damage at all as the ‘Little Boy’ bomb, which the US dropped on Hiroshima, killed up to 80,000 people in 1945.

Some US mainstream media noticeably voiced concerns about the new weapon and the impact it will have on international peace. Defense News, for instance, cited some non-proliferation advocates who argue “all nuclear weapons are strategic, not tactical.” 

Some Democrats in Congress worry that installing a low-yield and high-yield warhead on the same missile creates a dangerous situation where an adversary cannot know which system is being used, the paper wrote. Therefore, it would react as if the larger and deadlier warhead has been launched.

That aside, the W76-2 could give birth to other low-yield projectiles, reducing the threshold for using nuclear weapons, Mikhail Khodarenok, a Russian military expert said. Such nuclear munitions could easily be launched from the B-21 Raider, a US heavy bomber currently under development by Northrop Grumman, or the F-35 jet, he believes. 

Other pundits are already sounding the alarm about the danger of the US building low-yield nuclear weapons. “I think it is time for a new meeting of major countries that have nuclear weapons to develop a new treaty or a new agreement that restricts what can be developed and what cannot be developed,” General Paul Vallely, formerly second-in-command of the US Pacific Command told RT.

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“The belief that there might be tactical advantage using nuclear weapons – which I haven’t heard that being openly discussed in the United States or in Russia for a good many years – is happening now in those countries which I think is extremely distressing,” former US defense secretary and an arms control advocate William Perry was quoted as saying by the Guardian. “That’s a very dangerous belief.”

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