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Where Does the Money Go? – By Beatrice Brailsford

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The United States continues to spend more and more money on nuclear weapons, calling into question our commitment to our treaty obligations to disarm and, indeed, to our common sense.

The Obama Administration has asked Congress for $8.3 billion to spend on nuclear weapons activities in fiscal year 2015. That’s $534 million more than the US is spending this year. But it’s just the latest installment in a truly irrational trend. The 21st century has seen a substantial decline in the number of active warheads in the US nuclear arsenal. At the same time, the increase in spending on nuclear weapons activities now exceeds the all-time record set by Ronald Reagan at the height of the Cold War. In 2000 we spent $3.8 billion less than the administration plans next year, even though we had more than twice as many active warheads then as we do now. 

The optimal number of nuclear warheads is zero, which should be pretty cheap. But it’s still worth asking: Where does the nuclear bomb money go today? 

First, it doesn’t go for our international nonproliferation efforts or to dismantle nuclear weapons here at home. The administration wants to cut those already anemic budgets by 21 percent and 45 percent respectively. The bottom line is that our dismantlement program might be cut nearly in half next year – and it already has a 15-year backlog disassembling nuclear weapons the government doesn’t want anymore.

Instead, the money goes to modernize nuclear weapons and build new bomb plants, ill-conceived, mismanaged efforts that are over budget, behind schedule, and do nothing to increase this country’s security. All the Department of Energy’s bomb projects have been under the National Nuclear Security Administration since 2000, which has been so inept that one congressional panel called the NNSA a “failed [management] experiment.” The whole sorry tale appears in “Billion Dollar Boondoggles.” Here are a couple of prime examples:

Significant modifications to the B61 warhead are slated to cost more than $11 billion. That means every single refurbished bomb will cost twice its weight in solid gold. Furthermore, the modifications change its military capabilities, effectively creating a new, untested nuclear bomb. The B61 is now deployed in NATO countries, but a growing number of Western European officials object to its presence on their soil, so the B61 may have nowhere to go by the time its modifications are complete.

Warheads Spending

The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was first intended to manufacture nuclear bomb components, process highly-enriched uranium for other uses, and dismantle retired nuclear weapons. Its mission is now focused solely on making bomb parts. The NNSA spent half a billion dollars building the UPF before realizing the building would be too small to hold required equipment. Now the Pentagon says Round Two might take 20 years and cost $19 billion. After all that, the UPF will still not meet an actual need.

The United States is slated to spend more than one trillion dollars in the next 30 years on nuclear weapons and their missiles, subs, and bombers. We signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970, pledging complete disarmament “at an early date,” and our weapons stockpile is in fact shrinking in line with arms control agreements. It’s time to shrink the bomb budget.

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