Nuclear Forces to Cost $355 Billion Over Next Decade, Says CBO

January 2, 2014 | Edited by Benjamin Loehrke, Lauren Mladenka and Geoff Wilson

Lowballing nuclear costs - “The Obama administration's plan for maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal will likely cost around 66 percent more over the next decade than senior Pentagon officials have predicted, according to a new assessment by the independent Congressional Budget Office,” writes R. Jeffrey Smith for The Center for Public Integrity. The new CBO report estimates that current plans for operating, maintaining and upgrading the nuclear stockpile will cost $355 billion from 2014 through 2023.

--That number wildly conflicts with an estimate given by the Pentagon in 2011 which said that, “the 10-year tab would be around $214 billion, or an average of $21 billion a year.” Furthermore, “‘other nuclear-related costs’ — a category not mentioned by Pentagon officials that includes environmental cleanup efforts, arms control-related work, and a system of defenses against nuclear attack — will likely cost the government an additional $215 billion over the next decade.” That makes for a grand total of $570 billion for nuclear weapons and related programs. Read the full story here.

Report - “Projected Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2014 to 2023” by the Congressional Budget Office. December 2013. (pdf)

--In one chart: “Budgets for Operating, Sustaining, and Modernizing the Strategic Nuclear Triad”
--In one table: “Cost of U.S. Nuclear Forces, by Department and Function”

Are New Nuclear Weapons Necessary? - “The astronomical funding required to replicate our Cold War arsenal does not square with the security threats in today's world. Nor will our conventional forces be able to withstand the cuts necessitated by the price burden of these nuclear delivery systems,” writes Joe Cirincione in The Huffington Post.

--“Policy makers need to reevaluate their spending plans on nuclear forces in the coming years to reflect today's budgetary constraints and the diminishing utility of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy.” Read the full piece here.

Troubled warhead - The compromise 2014 defense authorization bill includes a comparative cost study of the controversial project to combine two nuclear warheads into one new model. The Senate and House have raised concerns about the program’s viability and affordability.

--The program might be in trouble. “The Navy has also raised objections to the plan based on cost and timing concerns. Meantime, congressional sources have suggested that the administration might put off the project for approximately five years due to increasing budget constraints.” Douglas Guarino of Global Security Newswire has the story.

Science and the CTBT - The nearly completed International Monitoring System, which was designed to detect nuclear explosions anywhere on the planet, “is proving adept at tasks its inventors never imagined.” The system’s sensors not only pinpointed North Korea’s nuclear tests, but has also been used to detect asteroid impacts, cracking ice sheets, whale sounds and radioactive particles emitted from the Fukushima disaster.

--The network, which was designed to help enforce the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, “has steadily grown over the years, from a handful of stations in 2003 to more than 270” and “has emerged as one of the most compelling arguments for the treaty, advocates say. Arms-control officials in the Obama administration have cited the network’s advances in arguing for a new push for Senate ratification of the nuclear test ban.” Joby Warrick reports for The Washington Post

Deal implementation - “World powers and Iran have agreed to start implementing in late January an agreement obliging Tehran to suspend its most sensitive nuclear work,” according to an Iranian official. There was no confirmation from the P5+1. EU and British officials indicated that “work remained to be done on how to implement the November accord.” Marcus George has the story at Reuters.

Sanctions in Iranian politics - “The problem with new sanctions legislation goes beyond the fact that it will kill the diplomatic process. Perhaps more important, this destructive behavior does the opposite of what we really should be doing: empowering those in Iran who want to unclench their fist and meet the extended hand of the United States,” write Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi for CNN.

--The authors argue that Iranian support for President Rouhani and his moderate position toward the West is a great but fragile opportunity. Iranian hardliners could regain the upper hand if Rouhani falters, and new U.S. sanctions would only expedite the hardliners’ return and scuttle diplomacy.

Spoilers - “As the United States finally puts a decade of war behind it, a group of senators, including 15 Democrats, is defying the White House and threatening to push the country into a fresh war with Iran,” says Jennifer Bendery of the The Huffington Post. Read the full story here.

Undermining diplomacy - Legislation introduced in the Senate on December 19 that would impose new sanctions on Iran “defies a request by the Obama administration and ten Senate committee chairs to stand down on sanctions while negotiations continue,” and, “flies in the face of an unclassified intelligence assessment that new sanctions ‘would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran,’” writes Colin Kahl in The National Interest.

Centrifuges - “Iran's nuclear chief says the Islamic Republic has not begun using a new generation of centrifuges for enriching uranium after striking a deal to ease sanctions with world powers,” reports Nasser Karimi for the AP. However the senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi said that, “a parliamentary proposal that would force the government to increase uranium enrichment to 60 percent if new sanctions are imposed must be implemented if it is approved. The proposal is viewed as a response to a U.S. Senate plan to impose more sanctions on Iran.” Read the full report here.

B-2 back in the air - A minor fire in a B-2 bomber’s engine compartment grounded the plane - one of only 20 stealth bombers - for nearly four years. The fire happened in Guam in 2010, and the plane just returned to service. Mark Thompson at TIME has the story.

123 agreements - Some members of Congress are seeking to “limit future U.S. peaceful nuclear cooperation only to countries that make a legal commitment to forgo building facilities for either uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing,” write Matthew Bunn and Fred McGoldrick for the Los Angeles Times. “The idea sounds good, but it is likely to be both ineffective and counterproductive.”

--Instead, “tools for limiting the spread of enrichment and reprocessing include strict export controls and interdiction to cut off black-market supply; U.S. legal rights to approve or disapprove reprocessing or enrichment of any nuclear material it supplies; and new and strengthened criteria accepted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to restrict the transfer of these technologies.” Read the full article here.

Should the triad be Saved? - “Does renovating the nuclear triad make sense in a world without a nuclear-armed superpower rival?” Asks Mark Thompson for Time. Full story here.

South Africa’s nuclear dismantlement - “South Africa has illustrated that long-term security can be far better assured by the abrogation of nuclear weapons than by their retention,” writes former South African president F.W. de Klerk. South Africa had six simple nuclear weapons by the 1980s, though a changing global environment convinced de Klerk that dismantling the state’s nuclear weapons program and acceding to the Nonproliferation Treaty would strengthen South Africa’s security. “Under these circumstances, it no longer made any sense for South Africa to retain its limited nuclear weapons capability — if, indeed, it had ever made sense.”

--”The international community must take concrete steps to control, and finally eliminate, nuclear weapons as a thinkable option. This will require greater support for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and more rapid movement by existing nuclear weapons states toward the reduction and dismantlement of their stockpiles” writes de Klerk. Full article in the Los Angeles Times.


--Joseph Cirincione, Ploughshares Fund, book discussion of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late. January 4th @ 6:00 pm, at Politics and Prose in Washington DC.

--"The Trillion Dollar Nuclear Triad: US Strategic Nuclear Modernization over the Next Thirty Years." Discussion with Jeffrey Lewis and Jon Wolfsthal at the Monterey Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Jan. 7th from 1:00-2:30. RSVP by email to