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Drive on for bunker-busting H-bomb

The Pentagon and the Energy Department have directed the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories in Livermore, Calif., and Los Alamos, N.M., to compete for the chance to design a hydrogen bomb that could destroy targets underground.

To the dismay of arms control proponents, the Bush administration is advocating such weapons _ which would slam into the earth at high speed and then explode underground _ as a means of attacking command bunkers or biological and chemical weapons facilities possibly buried in such places as Iraq, Iran or North Korea.

Work on preliminary designs for the weapon _ known as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator _ begins next month at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in northern California and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Scientists will propose modifying weapons rather than designing a new bomb from scratch.

Other news

RARE GLIMPSE IN DOOMED COCKPIT: Relatives of the 40 passengers and crew killed aboard United Flight 93 that crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside will be allowed to listen to the recordings of what went on in the cockpit Sept. 11. The FBI said that families of the crash victims will be allowed to listen to the audio recordings in a single, private session on April 18.

HOLES FOUND IN AIR SECURITY: The Transportation Department inspector general found airport security screeners on several dozen occasions failed to catch guns and simulated explosives, even after Sept. 11, according to an inspector general's report. The report found screeners at 32 airports missed knives 70 percent of the time, guns 30 percent of the time and simulated explosives 60 percent of the time.

FOOD RELIEF FALLS FAR SHORT: The Bush administration's much publicized food ration airdrop in northern Afghanistan _ hailed by the Pentagon as a way to feed starving residents while winning their loyalty _ achieved neither goal in many targeted areas, military experts, aid workers and a report by retired U.S. Special Forces officers now conclude.

The report, recently circulated in the Defense Department and on Capitol Hill, found the airdrops so problematic that it called for an end to the project, saying it was not winning the Afghans' trust and was thus "in direct opposition to U.S. military goals."