Obama plan outlines reductions in U.S. nuclear arsenal

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Obama administration's 20-year plan for the U.S. nuclear arsenal would reduce the number of deployed and stored warheads from 5,000 to a range of 3,000 to 3,500 and significantly increase spending on the complex that maintains them, according to newly disclosed documents.

Unclassified sections of the National Nuclear Security Administration's plan show that annual costs for the weapons complex would increase from about $7 billion in fiscal 2011 to $8.4 billion in 2017 and more than $9 billion by 2030.

The agency's infrastructure will support "active, logistic spare and reserve warheads," according to the plan, but it will not be "designed to have the capacity to support a return to historical Cold War stockpiles, or rapidly respond to large production spikes."

The plan does not say how many of the 3,000 to 3,500 warheads would be active or deployed.

The documents, which were sent in May to key members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees, were made public this week by the Federation of American Scientists and the Union of Concerned Scientists, two nonpartisan groups specializing in nuclear weapons.

The stockpile plans are expected to be discussed Thursday as two Senate panels hear testimony on the new U.S.-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) from the directors of the nation's three nuclear weapons laboratories.

Republican critics of the nuclear treaty have said that before they vote on ratification, they need assurance that the United States will continue rebuilding the weapons complex and refurbishing and replacing the aging nuclear stockpile, which includes some bombs and warheads that are 30 years old.

At least eight Republican votes are needed to get the two-thirds vote for Senate ratification of the treaty.

Just last week, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said the Obama administration was underfunding the nation's nuclear weapons complex. "What little new funds may be available under the president's plan will not cover even pressing needs like replacing two decrepit and dangerous facilities that produce plutonium and uranium," Kyl wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The NNSA stockpile plan, however, does include $3.5 billion for a new uranium-processing facility at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and funding for a planned $4 billion facility to handle plutonium at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Additionally, the administration proposes spending about $1 billion a year from 2021 through 2030 on refurbishing and perhaps replacing the W-78 warhead for land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and the currently deployed version of the B-61 nuclear bomb.

Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said his analysis of NNSA's stockpile plan showed spending of "a whopping $175 billion over the next 20 years for new nuclear weapons factories, testing and simulation facilities, and warhead modernizations."

He described as "curious" that "it will cost more to maintain fewer weapons, even though NNSA has been able to maintain more weapons with less for a decade and a half."

"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 of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She said, however, that maintaining "a large, capable weapons complex independent of the size of the arsenal . . . could be a problem for deeper reductions that are needed, since it would be possible for the United States to rapidly rebuild."

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