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Downwinders Decry Senate's Choice to Revive Nuke Research

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The U.S. Senate made a strong vote of support for revitalizing the military's nuclear arsenal last week, contradicting previous action by the House of Representatives. By a vote of 53-43, senators defeated an amendment proposed by California Democrat Diane Feinstein that would have prohibited the use of government funds to study the feasibility of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, also known as the "bunker buster."

The failure of the measure means that beginning in October, nuclear research laboratories could receive up to $4 million for continued work on the bomb, which is designed to pierce and demolish underground enemy facilities. Both of Idaho's senators, Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, voted against Feinstein's amendment. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate nuclear research from a similar energy and water appropriations bill.

Following the vote, a group of nuclear fallout victims from Idaho, Utah and California responded by blasting the Senate, saying that the vote "tells us our suffering, our pain, the deaths prematurely from cancers and other illnesses caused by the fallout from nuclear testing have meant nothing, nor has the lesson that there is no such thing as a safe nuclear test been learned."

Senate Democrats had similar concerns, adding that the vote sent a conflicted to countries like Iran and North Korea, whom the U.S. has asked to abandon nuclear weapons programs.

In response, Republicans like Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner downplayed the gravity of the funding. "We're talking about a study," the Virginia senator told Reuters following the vote. "What's the harm in a study?"