On December 1 the Idaho Statesman reprinted an article from the LA Times headlined “New Nuclear Weapons Needed, Many Experts Say.” The central lament of these “experts” is that the US arsenal is obsolete. It is not. The US nuclear arsenal, which is the largest on earth, contains nearly 5,000 weapons, many on hair-trigger alert, that can kill tens of thousands of people at a single go. This country’s weapons of mass destruction remain weapons of mass destruction. What is demonstrably obsolete (and was always demonstrably wrong) is the notion that nuclear weapons make this country safer.
The experts who want to use our obscenely large stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) to build new bombs and test those weapons to detonation are ignoring where we really are today and how we got here.
Nuclear weapons production is grueling. Between 1940 and 1996, the United States drained $5.8 trillion from the public’s purse to pay for the country’s nuclear weapons endeavor. We irreversibly damaged the environment and poisoned people around the world. We produced more than 70,000 nuclear warheads and grew numb to the harm.
Today, the US nuclear arsenal contains about 2,100 deployed nuclear warheads with another 2,500 in reserve. These weapons are a national security liability because they do nothing to solve our modern security issues. The most serious threats no longer come from a single rival power that is itself armed with thousands of nuclear warheads. Instead, today’s international instability and terrorism are threats that nuclear bombs can in no way counter.
But that hasn’t stopped the nuclear weaponeers from continuing to cling to the weapons we already have and push to modernize the US arsenal and production complex. Nuclear weapons reductions have slowed substantially. In the five years before 2013, the US retired only 309 warheads, ten times fewer than had been retired in the five years before that. If the weaponeers get their way, we will be aiming, not toward zero, but toward a leveling out for the foreseeable future.
The calls to “modernize” the nuclear arsenal and its production complex are driven by baseless claims that the US is somehow “falling behind” or that the current arsenal is unreliable. At their current growth rate, it would take Pakistan and India, which have the two fastest growing nuclear arsenals, 760 years to “catch up” to Russia and the United States. The US has or is developing 13 new or newly modernized nuclear weapons. We will spend $355 billion on the nuclear arms program in the next ten years – a figure that has grown by 60% in the past three. Current plans call for nuclear weapons spending of about $1 trillion over the next thirty years.
Why? What is the basis for these grotesque spending decisions? A good deal of the spending can be explained by the skyrocketing profits for contractors, which have tripled since 2006. Another chunk is because of the federal government’s propensity to make massive investments in projects that are crippled by mismanagement. The price tag for a uranium processing facility at Oak Ridge, TN, has ballooned from $6.5 billion to $19 billion. A new plutonium facility at Los Alamos, NM, was suspended after the projected cost went from $660 million to $5.8 billion.
But the problem is deeper than mismanagement or profiteering. The modernization of nuclear capabilities has become an end unto itself. We have to maintain and modernize the nuclear arsenal because we have a nuclear arsenal.
That will not do. The Snake River Alliance’s opposition to nuclear weapons is active and absolute. We are committed to breaking nuclear weapons’ stranglehold on this country’s future.