The Unrealistic Budgets and Nasty Politics of Nuclear Weapons

February 26, 2014 | Edited by Lauren Mladenka and Geoff Wilson

Nuclear austerity is coming - “The wages of austerity are coming due for America’s military,” writes Michael Krepon in a piece for Politico. “So far, Hagel has been silent about reductions in nuclear forces, promising to preserve all three legs of the so-called triad — missiles, bombers and submarines — while making ‘important investments to preserve a safe, secure, reliable and effective nuclear force.’ But reductions in nuclear forces are coming: It’s not a question of whether, but when — and how deep.”

--“The United States still has more than 5,000 nuclear weapons, all supported by a complex of bases, production facilities and nuclear laboratories likely to cost American taxpayers in excess of $20 billion per year this decade. But nuclear weapons seem anachronistic in the post-Cold War world. They have less military utility than conventional forces, their numbers are far larger than conceivable war plans and their replacement costs are extremely high.”

--“Over the past half-century, the boosters of arms control and nuclear deterrence have managed to find common ground, bringing the size of America’s nuclear stockpile down from its Cold War peak of more than 30,000 warheads. All the while, these two camps have kept battling it out, even though their respective goals — ratifying treaties and modernizing America’s creaking nuclear infrastructure — remain linked. Both agendas have become harder to achieve as the Cold War fades into history. And now, this odd, fractious partnership may be breaking up over irreconcilable differences. Tight Pentagon budgets make the old bargain — treaty votes in return for promises to modernize the triad and bomb-related facilities — harder to cut. Nuclear deterrence boosters complain that earlier promises haven’t been kept, and arms controllers complain that the price of ratification has become way too high… If this standoff continues, treaty ratification and nuclear force structure can expect lean years ahead. A brave new world beckons in which the United States views treaties and nuclear weapons as relics of the Cold War, while other countries cling to both.” Read the full story here.

Escaping the budget ax, for now - “The headlines on the Pentagon budget unveiled by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week were all about austerity,” yet “one category of military spending largely escaped the budget ax: nuclear weapons,” writes Doyle McManus for The Los Angeles Times. “Maintaining and modernizing our giant arsenal, which, happily, seems increasingly unlikely to ever be used, is expensive. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that U.S. nuclear forces will cost $355 billion over the next 10 years. About $89 billion of that will go to replacing aging missiles, submarines and bombers, and those costs will grow much larger after 2023, the CBO warned in a recent report.

--“Worst of all, much of that spending is unnecessary. Almost every expert on nuclear weapons agrees that the United States has a far larger nuclear force than it needs to deter attacks,” McManus says. “Take nuclear submarines. Sometime after 2020, the Pentagon plans to replace all 12 of its subs that carry nuclear weapons at a cost that will probably exceed $6 billion a boat.” However, experts say “we would be just as safe with eight or nine nuclear missile submarines.” Read the full article here.

Good money after bad - “The next U.S. military budget will include funds to overhaul Boeing Co's ground-based missile defense system and develop a replacement for an interceptor built by Raytheon Co, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer said Tuesday, citing ‘bad engineering’ on the existing system,” writes Andrea Shalal for Reuters. “Asked if the problems with the current interceptors stemmed from a shortage of funding,” a Pentagon official “attributed the issues more to decisions to rush deployment of technologies that had not been completely and thoroughly tested.”

--“Reuters reported earlier this month that the Pentagon planned to ask Congress for $4.5 billion in additional funding for missile defense over the next five years, including $560 million for work on a new interceptor after several failed flight tests in recent years,” Shalal says. Read the full story here.

Sanctions attempt - “Republican U.S. senators sought to revive a bill on Tuesday that would impose new sanctions on Iran despite President Barack Obama's insistence that the measure would endanger delicate negotiations seeking to curb Tehran's nuclear program,” report Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan for Reuters. “Senator Mitch McConnell, the party's leader in the Senate, told reporters Republicans wanted to include the sanctions package as an amendment to a bill expanding healthcare and education programs for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

--“Supporters insist the new sanctions package would help push Iran during the negotiations. But Obama promised a veto, saying a vote on new sanctions violated terms of an interim agreement in which Iran slowed its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from existing sanctions.” Full piece here.

Problems at WIPP - “The U.S. Energy Department reported finding "slightly elevated" radioactivity in the air at a New Mexico nuclear-waste site, days after it detected a leak,” Global Security Newswire reports. “Traces collected in and near the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant indicate that radioactive-contaminant levels ‘remain well below a level of public or environmental hazard,’ according to a DOE press statement released on Monday… Officials barred workers from entering underground sections of the waste-burial site after detecting the initial leak and an underground fire earlier this month.” Read the full story here.

Tweet - @BulletinAtomic: What did the Navy leave behind on Treasure Island in San Francisco? #nukes

Waste and obfuscation - “The secrecy behind an ex-Navy nuclear arms training program in California likely contributed to the faulty environmental cleanup of the site, says a new report. The man-made landform Treasure Island was used for nearly 50 years as a base for training military personnel in nuclear war tactics. A number of radioactive materials were used there including plutonium, radium and cesium 137. However, when the Navy decommissioned the San Francisco-area site in the 1990s and began restoring it for eventual civilian use, a significant amount of radioactive waste remained behind, unknown to some of the San Franciscans who moved into new townhouses on the island.”

--“The Navy was aware that radioactive materials at the Treasure Island Naval Station were not always properly handled, according to the report. However, because the service did not go public with the installation's nuclear weapons background, the environmental remediation personnel and other workers tasked with preparing the base for civilian use could have accidentally disseminated poisonous substances around Treasure Island.”

--In 2007, Robert McLean was tasked by a Navy contractor to carry out a study on the continued presence of radiation on the island. A Navy report written the year before “had indicated there was a low probability that any notable radioactive sources would be found so McLean said he was not expecting much when he began his survey. But that was not the case.” McLean said that his survey team “picked up readings from inside the truck, without even getting out of the vehicle,” and that they “found radiation, contaminated materials, in playgrounds and in areas that had previously been playgrounds. We found it in front yards. We found it underneath sidewalks and along the roadways." Read the full story from Global Security Newswire here.

Tweet - @ISISNuclear: New thesis on how Stuxnet infiltrated Iran nuclear facility


--“Former STRATCOM Officer Anticipates Verdict Soon on Gambling Charges” from Global Security Newswire.

--“Lawmaker Blasts Timing of Nominee Statements on Alleged Arms-Control Breach” by Diane Barnes of Global Security Newswire.

--“Sarmat ICBM to be Ready by 2020” by Pavel Podvig in Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces.


--“Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons Testing.” Discussion with Karipbek Kuyukov and Roman Vassilenko, Ambassador of Kazakhstan. Feb. 26 from 12:30-2:00, George Washington University, Funger Hall room 209, 2201 G Street NW. RSVP here.