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"Forget the Rest" blog


For immediate release June 20, 2013

Obama Administration Unveils 25-Year, $275 B Plan for Nuclear Warheads, Production Plants

Costly, Ambitious Plan at Variance with Obama’s Berlin Speech

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200, 505-577-8563

Albuquerque – Roughly contemporaneous with President Obama’s speech in Berlin expressing aspirations to nuclear disarmament, the administration released a $275 billion (B), 25-year plan (pdf) to maintain, design, and produce new nuclear warheads and build up U.S. warhead production capacity.[1]

In its proposed cost and scope of work, this week’s plan eclipses all prior planning for U.S. nuclear warheads.

Among its other features the new plan would:

  • Replace all current warheads and bombs – even those currently being upgraded – with several new warheads and bombs in a so-called “3+2” stockpile plan;
  • Build dozens of new design, testing, and production facilities, to cost tens of billions of dollars; and
  • Require ever-rising spending at warhead production sites and labs, from about $8 B today up to about $14 B annually by 2038. 

These expenditures do not include the cost of the proposed (but currently deferred), large-scale new plutonium facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the completion and initial operation of which is assumed to occur in the late 2020s.[2] 

The new plan is the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) 298 page Fiscal Year 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (FY14 SSMP).[3] 

Notwithstanding this week’s plan, budget and planning credibility issues have dogged NNSA for years.[4]  Virtually all NNSA projects are well over-budget and past their original schedules.  Multibillion-dollar projects and programs once described as essential and urgent have been canceled, downscoped, or deferred.  So this new plan may or may not assuage congressional doubts, despite its conspicuous claim (at p. v) to be “executable.” 

The plan carries the signature of newly-confirmed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Two sample illustrations from the report are reproduced below. 

Study Group Director Greg Mello: “The administration’s stockpile management plan is a shocking prescription for ever-greater investments in U.S. nuclear warheads, one that should be widely read and discussed by citizens, diplomats, and policy analysts.  It describes very clearly and in great detail a nuclear future which is exactly the opposite of the aspirations articulated by President Obama in Berlin. 

“Those interested in the sound management of the NNSA warhead complex will also find much on which to ruminate, given that the plan is silent regarding the deeply troubled relationship between the federal government and the management and operating (M&O) contractors which actually run the nuclear warhead complex and its laboratories on a for-profit, cost-plus basis.   

“This plan emanates from an Energy Department that has become the intellectual captive of its contractors.  The plan’s language and assumptions are the result of more than two decades of deceptive congressional testimony and lobbying in response to the ‘crisis’ posed by the end of the Cold War.  Official protestations aside, this is a Cold War plan, one that aims to perpetuate indefinitely the prerogatives and staffing levels enjoyed by nuclear weapons contractors at the same time as it perpetuates tensions with Russia.  What is new since the Cold War are the financial arrangements involved, which now include enormous contractor salaries and profits with almost no effective NNSA or DOE oversight. 

“This plan would establish a policy of planned warhead obsolescence, creating much work where little is needed.  Its complicated choreography is both needlessly expensive and managerially unrealistic. 

“Without new warheads, the weapons labs especially would have much less work to do.  This plan solves that ‘problem’ by loading the entire warhead complex with so much work and so many ambitious, simultaneous projects that it is very difficult to imagine their successful completion.  Despite its claim, the plan is very unlikely to be “executable.”  It is a profoundly nostalgic product.

“The heyday of nuclear weapons is over.   Among its other faults this plan does not acknowledge that reality.  We can state confidently that the delivery systems necessary to carry all these warheads will not be built.  Military interest in nuclear weapons is already weakening and will wane further in the coming years.  The President should “execute” this plan, fire those most responsible for it, and make another plan that is more realistic, much cheaper, and in harmony with U.S. treaty obligations, the conscience of humanity, and the realities of diplomacy today. 

“Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this plan is not the financial waste involved but the misdirection of national attention away from our truly urgent crises.  Nuclear weapons cannot solve any of our urgent problems and proposing hundreds of billions of dollars in new nuclear spending will only make our security problems worse.  Despite the deceptive noises made in Berlin, this Administration is still on autopilot when it comes to nuclear weapons and the nation is the worse for it.”

Recent background resources from our web site that might be helpful include:

(text ends)

SSMP fig 1

SSMP fig 2

[1]The $275 billion total cost estimate is obtained by averaging then-year dollars as presented in the budget estimate graph (Figure 8-12) included above. It is not good practice to average then-year dollars, but no inflation estimate or model is provided by DOE. Inflation is not an easy problem and merits much more attention than can be given here. NNSA does not treat it; in this short press release neither do we. The effect of a 3% inflation model on the five year spending plan submitted to Congress is shown graphically in this April 10, 2013 press release ("Administration requests large increase in nuclear warhead spending").

[2] The plan includes only the warhead responsibilities of NNSA and does not include DoD costs for the acquisition of the new delivery systems planned for this 25-year planning period, which include new bombers, ballistic missile submarines, long range standoff (LRSO) missiles, and possibly new land-based ballistic missiles.  These new delivery systems will cost, to the nearest significant digit, roughly $200 B.  Also not included here is the day-to-day DoD cost to deploy nuclear weapons, a comparably large sum which cannot be estimated without many assumptions regarding cost-sharing between nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities.    

[3] Despite a legal requirement, the administration had prepared no SSMP since April, 2011.  Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and key members of Congress heavily criticized NNSA for its failure to deliver this and other planning documents,  as well as for its failure last year to provide legally-required estimates for program spending over the next five years.  (See for example GAO letter of Jun 7, 2012 re: absence of FY13 NNSA planning & budgeting documents, pdf).

[4] For some recent examples, see: GAO raises questions about credibility of NNSA budget, Nuclear Weapons & Materials Monitor, Aug 3, 2012; As Problems Mount, U.S. Nuke Warhead Chief Steps Down, Los Alamos Study Group, May 17, 2013; GAO, Briefing on the Uranium Processing Facility: Factors Leading to Cost Increases, Apr 2013. Jack Jekowski has a solid historical overview of NNSA in his "The NNSA Landscape: A Year of Change Ahead," May16, 2013. 

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