Proposed Nuclear Weapons Budget - 76 Percent Above Cold War Average

May 21, 2010

President Obama recently submitted the new bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to the Senate for ratification. The Treaty makes modest reductions to the nuclear weapons stockpiles of the two countries. At the same time he submitted a modernization plan, which was required by Congress, that includes investments of $80 billion over the next ten years to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. A two-thirds vote of the Senate, or 67 Senators, is required for treaty ratification.

Last December all 40 Republican senators, plus one independent, wrote to Obama demanding modernization of both the stockpile and complex as a condition for New START ratification.

In response to Republican demands, the Obama Administration proposes to increase funding for the nuclear weapons research and production programs of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by more than 40 percent, from $6.4 billion in 2010 to $9 billion by 2018. The proposed funding will be used to maintain the deterrent through life-extension programs and modernize the complex by building new production facilities, including a new $4.5 billion plutonium facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility. The proposed $9 billion budget increases the average annual Cold War cost of $5.1 billion for similar nuclear weapons programs by 76 percent.

Jay Coghlan, Director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, says that NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are subtly changing the frame of debate over nuclear weapons maintenance to favor their own interests. Independent scientists, acting as consultants to the government, have repeatedly found that the stockpile is safe and reliable and can be so maintained by existing life extension programs. Past NNSA budget requests have invoked a "reliable" stockpile, but its Fiscal Year 2011 request is full of references to an "effective" stockpile.

Coghlan said, "In order to extract increased funding, NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs are trying to shift the debate over maintaining the stockpile away from technical arguments over warhead safety and reliability to subjective arguments over maintaining an exorbitant research and production complex and workforce. This will not only cost enormous sums of money, which is what the labs seek, but will also perversely undermine confidence in the stockpile because of planned changes, including new military capabilities, that will be made to existing, previously tested weapons. Giving the nuclear weapons labs a blank check contradicts Obama's declared national security goal of a future nuclear weapons-free world. Instead, he should be redirecting the labs into dramatically increased nonproliferation programs, cleanup, and meeting today's national security threats of energy dependence and climate change."

Additional notes from Nuclear Watch New Mexico:

1. The average annual cost of $5.1 billion during the Cold War for DOE defense programs is derived from "Atomic Audit, The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940," Steven Schwartz,, Brooking Institution Press, DC, 1998, Table A-2, p. 561 (adjusted for inflation).

2. For more background, please see "Labs Seek 'Stockpile Modernization' Through Test Ban Ratification - 'Updating' of Treaty 'Safeguards' to Protect Nuclear Weapons Budgets"

Of particular interest are cited Los Alamos Lab viewgraphs that state "Technically: there is little difference between a ratified CTBT, and the current testing moratorium" and "There are several ways to sustain capabilities... Get more money." The point is that the nuclear weapons labs are fully aware that treaty ratifications are an opportunity for them to secure more funding, as they did in the build up to the 1999 ratification process that rejected the CTBT.

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