SANTA FE – The cost over the next decade of operating, maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal – including for work at national laboratories like Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico – is estimated to be $400 billion, according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office.
That’s up from the last decade-long estimate of $348 billion that the budget office made in December 2013 for the years 2014 to 2023.
The new report says the expected average of $40 billion in nuclear weapons expenses per year through 2026 takes into account that programs are further along than when the previous estimate was made and some modernization efforts, particularly for a new bomber, have become better defined. Also, updates of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles “have increased in scope or have been accelerated,” says the CBO report.
The $400 million estimate for the decade includes $87 million for the national laboratories around the country, including costs related to “maintaining current and future stockpiles of nuclear weapons.” In New Mexico, that work includes ramping up the production of plutonium “pits,” the grapefruit-size cores of nuclear bombs that serve as triggers, at Los Alamos. No new pits have been made since 2011, but LANL is under a mandate to make as many as 80 by 2030.
The huge nuclear arsenal modernization plan now underway was part of President Barack Obama’s deal with Congress over ratification of the New START Treaty on arms control that Obama signed in 2011.
Greg Mello of the local Los Alamos Study Group research and advocacy organization said the CBO’s report leaves out some big-ticket items, such cleanup for nuclear weapons work and disposing of old nuclear weapons buildings, which put the actual 10-year costs at more than $500 billion.
“No one can tell what these huge, multi-decade programs will cost but, over the next 30 years, the total cost will certainly be above a trillion dollars,” said Mello. “These modernization plans conflict with other DoD (Department of Defense) acquisition plans. Nobody has any politically realistic idea of where all this money will come from.”
Other projected costs for the next 10 years include: $189 billion for weapons delivery systems such as missiles, ballistic missile submarines and long-range bombers; $9 billion for “tactical” nuclear weapons delivery systems, such as shorter-range aircraft; and $58 billion for the DoD’s “command, control, communications and early warnings systems.
Another $56 billion was included as coverage in the event that the cost of nuclear programs exceed “planned amounts at roughly the same rates that costs for similar programs have grown in the past.”