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"Forget the Rest" blog


For immediate release February 12, 2018 3:45 pm MST
This press release will be updated when further NNSA budget details are available.

Strangelove Lives: Trump Administration Requests Largest Spending Increase for Nuclear Warheads Since 1962

Warhead research, testing and production spending already at all-time high for US

Administration requests estimated $1.8 B (18%) increase in warhead spending

Los Alamos Study Group questions ability of agency to spend money so quickly without greater waste, fraud, and abuse

Contact: Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group, 505-265-1200 (office) 505-577-8563 (cell)

Permanent link * Previous press releases

Albuquerque, NM – Today President Trump released his fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget request, including his administration's request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency with the Department of Energy (DOE) responsible for development and production of nuclear warheads and bombs, the development of naval nuclear reactors, and some aspects of nuclear non-proliferation, including the disposition of excess weapons-usable materials such as plutonium (Pu).

The administration is proposing a $1.8 billion (B) increase in NNSA nuclear "Weapons Activities" (WA) spending for FY19, to $11.017 B, exclusive of about about $318 million (M) requested for NNSA warhead administration costs (out of NNSA's overall administrative request of $423 M).

This is a 18% increase in WA (before correcting for inflation) over this year's (FY18's) estimated WA spending of $9.325 B (again, not including warhead administrative costs, which will be about $290 M in FY18).

This is the largest increase in warhead spending, both percentage-wise and in absolute (inflation-corrected) dollars, since 1962, when the US had 25,540 warheads and bombs. In 1962, the US spent $7.16 B (in 2017 dollars) on nuclear weapons research, development, testing, evaluation, and administration (RDT&E, directly comparable to today's WA if administrative costs are included in the latter). [Note 1.] The US has 4,018 warheads and bombs in the active stockpile today.

This works out to $280,000 apiece for the 25,540 warheads in 1962, when the US conducted 96 nuclear tests and was developing many kinds of new warheads and bombs, vs. $2.821 M to maintain and upgrade each of the 4,018 active US warheads today. This is more than an order of magnitude increase in the cost of comparable warhead work, given the great cost of the nuclear testing program then running at an average pace of almost two nuclear tests per week at multiple testing locations.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that the deployment, maintenance, and modernization of US nuclear weapons over the next 30 years will cost $1.2 trillion (exclusive of hundreds of billions in booked environmental cleanup liabilities). The present NNSA warhead budget is part of that vast sum. (See: Congressional Budget Office: US Nuclear Forces To Cost $1.2 Trillion over 30 Years, Oct 31, 2017.)

NNSA projects that its weapons activities budget will rise every year in current dollars from now through 2042. (See: NNSA/DOE FY 2018 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, Nov 2017, Fig. 8-19, p. 8-28).


Study Group Director Greg Mello:

"More spending on nuclear weapons, in a time of real crisis in our society and especially our environment, reflects heart-breaking, upside-down priorities. It also reflects the depth of corruption to which we are sinking. A cabal of bloated contractors, a small army of well-placed insiders in government, pork-barrel politicians, and captured federal bureaucrats have bullied the Office of Management and Budget into approving a request for far more money than has ever been spent before on warhead design and production, even during the height of the Cold War.

"It is truly a disgusting spectacle -- in itself, in what it portends for our foreign and domestic policies, and in what it says about the state of our democracy. That so few in the mainstream media will deplore this waste and these inverted priorities is frightening, to say the least.

"The administration's budget request for nuclear warhead activities amounts to a colossal waste of money by any standard. There is no way NNSA can wisely spend an 18% increase in available funds for warheads in a single year. People can't be hired that fast, and infrastructure cannot be designed and built that fast. If contracts -- including and especially management and operating contracts -- are let as freely as this implies, even more waste, fraud and abuse than at present are virtual certainties. [The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has placed NNSA (and its predecessor DOE Defense Programs) on its "High Risk List" (most recently, here) for waste, fraud and abuse since that list began in 1990. See especially: David Trimble, GAO workshop, March 22, 2017: DOE Contract & Project Management: Progress and Challenges.]

"Of particular interest is the permanent, unceasing promotion of nuclear weapons year-in, year-out by our New Mexico senators and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. They excuse their services to the weapons labs (and military bases) by saying that this spending is 'good' for New Mexico, but there is no data to show that this spending lifts anyone out of poverty, or prevents entire counties near the labs and bases (Rio Arriba, Curry, Otero) from having high to very high poverty rates. The data just do not support the notion that these facilities lift up New Mexico. Where's the 'lift'?

"We should know, but do not know, whether NNSA can legally draw on its ample prior-year unspent balances -- rumored to be in the billions -- to increase spending immediately, given widespread congressional support for budget increases, or whether the agency may have even done so already, in anticipation of higher future budgets. NNSA has certain characteristics and freedoms that are unique in government. [See: "Structural Features Making NNSA an Unusual Federal Agency," explained further here.]

Other resources:

The NNSA portion of today's budget request will be re-posted on this page alongside past budget requests and related documents.

Recent Los Alamos Study Group press releases on the NNSA budget, for historical comparison:

Note 1: Past RDT&E spending from Stephen I. Schwartz, Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, 1998; Los Alamos Study Group analysis. Deflator used is the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (urban).



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