The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kyle Ann Sebastian Communications Officer Food & Environment, Global Security

More Than 700 Scientists Call on Biden, Congress to Scrap Plans for New Land-Based Nuclear Missiles

Canceling “Expensive, Dangerous, and Unnecessary” Sentinel Would Save $100 Billion

As the Pentagon certified the continuation of the new Sentinel intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile (ICBM) today, 716 scientists, including ten Nobel laureates and 23 members of the National Academies, are calling for the program to be cancelled. In a letter to President Biden and Congress, scientists recommend retiring the land-based leg of the nuclear triad entirely, calling it “expensive, dangerous, and unnecessary.”

“There is no sound technical or strategic rationale for spending tens of billions of dollars building new nuclear weapons,” said Dr. Tara Drozdenko, director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which organized the letter. “These weapons – stored in silos across the Plains states – place a target on communities and increase the risk of nuclear war while offering no meaningful security benefits. The U.S. could eliminate the land-based leg of the triad tomorrow and the U.S. public would only be safer for it.”

The Pentagon review of the Sentinel came after the projected cost of the project rose 37%, to $131 billion, requiring a re-evaluation of the program and possible alternatives under the Nunn-McCurdy Act.

"It is unconscionable to continue to develop nuclear weapons, like the Sentinel Program,” said Dr. Barry Barish, recipient of the 2017 Nobel prize in physics, member of the National Academy of Sciences and signatory to the letter. “The Russell-Einstein Manifesto in 1955 simply stated for us that 'such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind.' Today's more advanced weapons only emphasize that profound statement."

While the ballooning cost is reason enough to cancel the program, silo-based nuclear missiles also pose an unnecessary danger to the U.S. public, according to the letter. A recent study found that an attack on U.S. land-based missiles – which are intended to act as a “sponge” to attract and absorb incoming adversary missiles – would result in millions of deaths across the U.S. due to radioactive fallout. Because the locations of these missiles are well known, they are vulnerable to attack. The U.S. military keeps these missiles on “hair-trigger” alert so they can be launched within minutes, increasing the risk of nuclear war due to false alarms, misunderstandings and miscalculations.

Improvements in other legs of the U.S. nuclear triad have rendered the land-based leg of the triad redundant and unnecessary. Nuclear-armed submarines hidden at sea are as accurate as silo-based missiles, quick to respond and essentially invulnerable to attack. Previous UCS research found U.S. land-based missiles to be superfluous and argued they could be eliminated without sacrificing U.S. security.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III is recommending continued spending on the over-budget and behind-schedule Sentinel program. But President Biden and Congress should examine this evaluation with a critical eye, conclude that the costs outweigh the benefits and cancel the program, saving U.S taxpayers over $100 billion.

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.