A Golden Mistake

The B61 life extension program gets a gold medal for setting records as the most expensive nuclear warhead in U.S. history. It also gets another ignominious recognition – costing more than its weight in solid gold.

The B61 bombs are the oldest bombs in the operational arsenal – first deployed in the 1960s. The Life Extension Program is intended to update and overhaul the warheads to keep them in the arsenal for decades to come, allowing the B61 to continue serving as the last remaining tactical nuclear warhead in the arsenal. The bombs remain deployed in Europe, despite broad recognition that they have no military utility.

Unfortunately, the life extension program (LEP) for the B-61 nuclear bomb is now projected to cost $10 billion. When we first heard that, some quipped that the bomb must be gold-plated. It's not. That would be too cheap.

B61 bombs weigh approximately 700 pounds each. At the prices near historic highs of $1,619 per ounce, 700 pounds in solid gold is worth only $16.5 million. [Updated]

How does the B-61 LEP measure up?

Each of the estimated 400 B61-12 nuclear bombs will now cost approximately $28 million, according to Hans Kristensen at the Federation of American Scientists (a Ploughshares Fund grantee).

That is 1.5 times its weight in solid gold.

Let's put that in perspective. Each of the gold medals handed out at the London Olympic Games contains a minimum of 6 grams of gold. 700 pounds of gold is enough for 52,919 gold medals. That's five times the total number of Olympic athletes in London.

For a bomb that has no place in a 21st century military strategy, $10 billion might be too much to pay. Instead of extending the B61's life, wouldn't it make more sense to let it finish its golden years in the dismantlement queue?

Update: Aug. 1, 2012

An astute reader pointed out that the B61-12 will actually cost $11.5 million more than its weight in gold. I underestimated it at $10 million more in the original blog.

I made the mistake of calculating gold costs in imperial ounces, where gold is actually traded in troy ounces. Correcting my conversion error shows that 700 lbs. of solid gold is actually worth $16.5 million at the time of the original post.

Special thanks to our reading for correcting me. This is a friendly reminder that, despite much progress reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world, there has been much greater progress eradicating the imperial measurement system.


I was having a good morning, like Bill Press said today on progressive radio, until I heard about this. Why are we spending this kind of money on nuclear bombs that drop out of the sky? What about spending it on schools and infrastructure. This really is sick. this is not okay, it's WRONG. SCHOOLS NOT BOMBS, YOU CONGRESSMEN AND NUCLEAR INDUSTRY CRIMINALS WHOEVER APPROVED THIS IS SICK.

I think the real Golden Mistake is the fact that the writer didn't know that an ounce of gold isn't measured in actual Empirical Ounces and is instead measured in Troy Ounces. This small mistake means the gold bomb would cost 16.5 million dollars in gold, not 18.1.

Einstein wrote the forward in the book Man and his gods (homer smith) where he warned the world about this threat. http://www.thevenusproject.com/downloads/ebooks/30426379-Homer-W-Smith-Man-and-His-Gods.pdf

But if we don't have enough nukes to blow (circle one) A. China B. Iran C. Iraq D. Venezuela E. Florida to (circle one) A. Hell B. Moon C. Siberia. D. Florida (circle one) A. Two times B. 100 C. 1000 D. 8,000,000 times over? How we Americans can sleep at night knowing this much firepower exists in the hands of such an inept country...I'll never know. Ps. I am a veteran so shut your cakehole.

I've often wondered what the arguments in favor of tac nukes are. As a fighter pilot (of a non-DCA jet), I always pitied my buddies who had to put so much effort into passing their nuke certs -- for a mission they were never going to fly. It's a serious drain on SQ resources. I think it comes down to this: the Atlantic alliance is a rare and precious thing. The tac nuke piece forces (not allows, forces) politicians in the countries where we have nuclear capabilities fielded to pull their gazes up from their navels to the horizon and join the "big leagues." My guess is that senior US policy-makers see that as serving the interests of the alliance and the US.

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