Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DOE Plan Reduces Nuclear Arsenal By Up to 40 Percent But Results in Few Savings or Reductions in Size of Weapons Complex

July 13, 2010

CONTACT: Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) [1]
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Phone: (202) 223-6133
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DOE Plan Reduces Nuclear Arsenal By Up to 40 Percent But Results in Few Savings or Reductions in Size of Weapons Complex

Science Groups Release Budget Plan Publicly for First Time

WASHINGTON - July 13 - The Obama administration is planning to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal by as much as 40 percent by 2021, but also wants to spend nearly $175 billion over the next 20 years to build new facilities and maintain and modify thousands of weapons, according to two sections of an administration plan [2] made public today by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The proposal, the "FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan," which is part of the Department of Energy's proposed fiscal year 2011 budget, was drafted by DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and presented to members of Congress in May.

"Nuclear weapons are now a liability, not an asset, so the plan to reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile is a step in the right direction," said Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of UCS's Global Security Program.

The plan calls for the United States to reduce its nuclear arsenal 30 to 40 percent from today's total of approximately 5,000 weapons. Reductions already underway will reduce the arsenal to 4,700 weapons by the end of 2012. According to the plan, "the future NNSA infrastructure will support total stockpiles up to a range of approximately 3,000 to 3,500 ... warheads."

"The 3,000 to 3,500 total warhead target is a ceiling," said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists. "Of course, the United States could reduce its arsenal to even lower levels through negotiated agreements with Russia and the other nuclear weapon states."

The plan also includes cost estimates beyond what NNSA has previously released. It calls for the United States to spend nearly $175 billion (in then-year dollars) from 2010 to 2030 on new weapons production, testing and simulation facilities, and on modernizing and extending the life of the remaining weapons in the arsenal. That price tag does not include the cost of maintaining and operating nuclear weapons delivery systems, which is covered by the Department of Defense budget.

Given NNSA's spotty record for meeting deadlines and budgets, experts at FAS and UCS predict that the costs likely will be higher.

"Weapons expenditures will remain high because the plan calls for retaining a large weapons complex independent of the size of the arsenal," said Nickolas Roth, an analyst with UCS's Global Security Program. "This could be a problem for deeper reductions that are needed since it would be possible for the United States to rapidly rebuild."

The two science groups also questioned some of NNSA's key assumptions. For example, they questioned the need to maintain the capability of supporting 3,000 to 3,500 weapons even if the number of weapons in the stockpile dropped below 1,000.

"That calculation makes no sense," said Kristensen. "It's akin to saying that today's stockpile of about 5,000 weapons requires a complex of nearly the same size and cost as when the stockpile had 8,000 warheads. Given the size of the federal deficit, the Obama administration needs to think more clearly about how it spends taxpayers' money."

Finally, the groups cautioned the Obama administration against planning to make extensive modifications to U.S. nuclear weapons in the future when the United States is seeking additional reductions with Russia and other nuclear weapon states and needs the support of non-nuclear countries to implement the administration's nonproliferation agenda.

"Not only could extensive ‘improvements' reduce the reliability of the warheads," Gronlund said, "they would send the wrong message when we are trying to get other countries to reduce their arsenals."


The Union of Concerned Scientists [1] is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) Links: Homepage [1]Union of Concerned Scientists (Press Center) [3]Union of Concerned Scientists (Action Center) [4]


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