The Bush administration has shut down an independent committee of energy experts that provided oversight on U.S. nuclear-arms development, just in time for Pentagon and Energy Department officials who resumed their talks on nuclear testing and building “mini nukes” and “bunker buster” bombs last week.

The decision to ax the U.S. Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s advisory committee, which held public hearings and issued public reports, came just four months after two committee members publicly criticized the government’s plans to build a new nuclear arsenal.

“The world’s only superpower would send a negative signal to the non-nuclear states if it felt the need to develop new types of nuclear weapons,” wrote committee members Sidney Drell and Raymond Jeanloz in the March 2003 edition of Arms Control Today.

It also came about three weeks after the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Bush’s request of $46 million for nuclear research, including $15 million for the development of the “bunker buster,” a five-kiloton nuclear bomb that penetrates deep into the ground. Critics of the “bunker bomb” say the weapon would cause enormous amounts of fallout, including the transmission of radioactive debris into the environment and the leaking of biological and chemical agents. Apparently that is of no consequence to the Bush administration.

Last month, committee members told the Guardian that energy officials considered the panel a “nuisance” and of “no value.” The newspaper also reported that the 15-member committee, which was made up of independent experts in national security, arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, had not been used at all during its last year of operation and heard about its dissolution via e-mail instead of as mandated through the federal register.

This leaves only the Nuclear Weapons Council, made up of members of the U.S. military and the Energy and Defense departments, to monitor U.S. nuclear-weapons policy.

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