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DOE Plan Reduces Nuclear Arsenal By Up to 40 Percent But Results in Few Savings or Reductions in Size of Weapons Complex

Science Groups Release Budget Plan Publicly for First Time


The Obama administration is planning to cut the U.S. nuclear arsenal
by as much as 40 percent by 2021, but also wants to spend nearly $175
billion over the next 20 years to build new facilities and maintain and
modify thousands of weapons, according to two sections of an
administration plan made public today by the Federation of
American Scientists (FAS) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The proposal, the "FY 2011 Stockpile Stewardship and Management
Plan," which is part of the Department of Energy's proposed fiscal year
2011 budget, was drafted by DOE's National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA) and presented to members of Congress in May.

"Nuclear weapons are now a liability, not an asset, so the plan to
reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile is a step in the right direction,"
said Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of UCS's Global Security Program.

The plan calls for the United States to reduce its nuclear arsenal 30
to 40 percent from today's total of approximately 5,000 weapons.
Reductions already underway will reduce the arsenal to 4,700 weapons by
the end of 2012. According to the plan, "the future NNSA infrastructure
will support total stockpiles up to a range of approximately 3,000 to
3,500 ... warheads."

"The 3,000 to 3,500 total warhead target is a ceiling," said Hans
Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the
Federation of American Scientists. "Of course, the United States could
reduce its arsenal to even lower levels through negotiated agreements
with Russia and the other nuclear weapon states."

The plan also includes cost estimates beyond what NNSA has previously
released. It calls for the United States to spend nearly $175 billion
(in then-year dollars) from 2010 to 2030 on new weapons production,
testing and simulation facilities, and on modernizing and extending the
life of the remaining weapons in the arsenal. That price tag does not
include the cost of maintaining and operating nuclear weapons delivery
systems, which is covered by the Department of Defense budget.

Given NNSA's spotty record for meeting deadlines and budgets, experts
at FAS and UCS predict that the costs likely will be higher.

"Weapons expenditures will remain high because the plan calls for
retaining a large weapons complex independent of the size of the
arsenal," said Nickolas Roth, an analyst with UCS's Global Security
Program. "This could be a problem for deeper reductions that are needed
since it would be possible for the United States to rapidly rebuild."

The two science groups also questioned some of NNSA's key
assumptions. For example, they questioned the need to maintain the
capability of supporting 3,000 to 3,500 weapons even if the number of
weapons in the stockpile dropped below 1,000.

"That calculation makes no sense," said Kristensen. "It's akin to
saying that today's stockpile of about 5,000 weapons requires a complex
of nearly the same size and cost as when the stockpile had 8,000
warheads. Given the size of the federal deficit, the Obama
administration needs to think more clearly about how it spends
taxpayers' money."

Finally, the groups cautioned the Obama administration against
planning to make extensive modifications to U.S. nuclear weapons in the
future when the United States is seeking additional reductions with
Russia and other nuclear weapon states and needs the support of
non-nuclear countries to implement the administration's nonproliferation

"Not only could extensive 'improvements'
reduce the reliability of the warheads," Gronlund said, "they would send
the wrong message when we are trying to get other countries to reduce
their arsenals."

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.