Estimate of nuclear weapons costs undershot by more than $140 billion

R. Jeffrey Smith, “Obama administration understated nuclear weapons costs,” The Center for Public Integrity, 24 December 2013

The Obama administration’s plan for maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal will likely cost around 66 percent more over the next decade than senior Pentagon officials have predicted, according to a new assessment by the independent Congressional Budget Office.

Under the administration’s plan, operating, maintaining and upgrading the nuclear stockpile will cost a total of $355 billion from 2014 through 2023, said the CBO report, published just before the holidays and shortly after Congress finished action on a 2014 budget bill that restored some planned Pentagon spending cuts.

James Miller, the Pentagon’s outgoing policy chief, had said in 2011 congressional testimony that the 10-year tab would be around $214 billion, or an average of $21 billion a year, an amount he pegged at around 3 percent of the Pentagon’s likely overall budget for that period.

His boss at the time, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, cited an even lower yearly total when he told a security conference in Colorado last summer that nuclear weapons are “just not that expensive.”

Carter’s remarks ignited substantial controversy, including criticism from anti-nuclear activists as well as challenges from military budget experts. The squabble stemmed in part from the fact that the federal budget has no consolidated nuclear weapons spending category, and instead lists discrete tallies for related programs in the energy and defense departments. …

The $355 billion tally, moreover, still does not reflect the full panoply of costs associated with having a robust nuclear arsenal, according to the CBO. It projected that “other nuclear-related costs” — a category not mentioned by Pentagon officials that includes environmental cleanup efforts, arms control-related work, and a system of defenses against nuclear attack — will likely cost the government an additional $215 billion over the next decade.

That makes a grand total of $570 billion. All of these programs are meant to persist for more than 10 years, of course, which means that nuclear weapons-related spending during the next 30 years or so could easily approach $1 trillion. …

Although the overall federal budget is shrinking, these plans would require annual nuclear weapons-related spending to increase by as much as 60 percent over the period, the report said. …

When Miller, who is slated to retire in January, was asked at the Nov. 2011 House Armed Services committee hearing about claims that nuclear weapons-related spending over the next decade could be as high as $600 billion, he said, “suffice it to say there was double counting and some rather curious arithmetic involved.”

But that’s pretty much where the CBO came out.

Read the full article here.