Is the U.S. Ready for a Nuclear Incident?

Whether it came from accident or malice, the likely consequences of any nuclear attack are difficult to fully comprehend. Billions – maybe trillions – of dollars in damage would result, perhaps tens of thousands of lives would be lost with even more injured or sick, not to mention supply lines cut off and massive panic across the nation.

In a nation that spends billions of dollars on insurance each year for natural catastrophes from fires and earthquakes to flooding, one would assume that preparing for a man-made disaster of nuclear proportions would be high up on our list of budget priorities. Sadly, this is not the case.

Despite the overall decrease in deployed warheads, the departments of defense and energy continue to increase their nuclear weapons budgets. There is one area of the nuclear budget pie that is noticeably underrepresented: Nuclear Incident Management – or, more simply, nuclear disaster preparedness for a nuclear or radiological attack.

Instead, the U.S. nuclear budget is dominated by funding for the upkeep of our existing nuclear weapons complex and missile defense. Seventy-three percent of nuclear weapons-related appropriations over the next ten years are slated for these two purposes. The assumption is that the deterrent provided by these two systems is enough to keep us safe from any attack by nuclear weapons.

As 9/11 showed, that’s just not true. Terrorists are not deterred by large nuclear stockpiles and mutually assured destruction doesn’t apply to non-state actors.

With only roughly $700 million devoted to the response and planning for such an event it is clear that these funding priorities need adjustment in order to address the threats of the day. Gone are the days when a nuclear exchange with Russia would make a “disaster response” laughable. Now, the real threats of a single “small” nuclear device or a dirty bomb delivered by terrorists – who do not fear retaliation from our nuclear forces – demand appropriate consideration.

Source: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


It would indeed be good to better fund Nuclear Incident Management. Even more important, I would say, is funding Nuclear Threat Reduction to the point of repleteness. Since I regard Missile Defense as mostly a scam, I'd recommend taking the money from there. What exactly are Deferred Environmental and Health Costs, and how are they paid for?

<p>In short, the Carnegie Endowment report, <em><a href="" target="_blank">Nuclear Security Spending</a></em> notes: <blockquote>Deferred environmental and health costs encompass all the costs associated with managing and cleaning up the large quantities of radioactive and toxic wastes generated by nuclear weapons testing, production, and deployment activities, along with the costs of four separate programs to compensate civilian, military, and contractor employee victims of nuclear weapons testing and production.</blockquote> <p>The majority of this cost is found in DoD and DoE budgets for environmental management and cleanup &ndash; with several other agencies making up a lesser piece of the slice relating to waste disposal and victim compensation. Interestingly, according to the report, the amount spent on victim compensation is nearly the same as nuclear incident management.</p> <p>As is the case with many of these agency expenditures, the bulk of the cost is born by taxpayers.</p>

Two relatively current reports from Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness give the answer: REALLY, REALLY UNPREPARED.

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