"I find hope in the work of long-established groups such as the Arms Control Association...[and] I find hope in younger anti-nuclear activists and the movement around the world to formally ban the bomb."

– Vincent Intondi
Professor of History, Montgomery College
July 1, 2020
Kingston Reif

Nuclear Costs to Jump, Pentagon Says

By Kingston Reif

The Defense Department’s plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal “is a very expensive proposition” and will “roughly double” the percentage of the budget allocated to nuclear weapons for a period of time during the 2020s and 2030s, according to a senior department official.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on June 25, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said the cost to build and sustain new nuclear missiles, submarines, and bombers and to make needed improvements to nuclear command and control systems is projected to average $18 billion per year from 2021 to 2035 in constant fiscal year 2016 dollars.

When combined with the cost to sustain the current arsenal as the new systems are built, this will increase spending on nuclear weapons from the current level of approximately 3 percent of the overall defense budget to about 7 percent, Work said.

Work’s testimony marked the first time the Pentagon has provided cost information about nuclear forces beyond 10 years. He did not specify for how long nuclear weapons would consume 7 percent of military spending, but he said spending would peak “around 2026 and 2027.”

The projected increase “will require very hard choices and increased risk in some [non-nuclear] missions without additional funding above current defense budget levels,” Work added.

U.S. Strategic Command estimated in September 2014 that maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal “will require close to 10 percent” of the Defense Department budget “for a period of time.” The command has since backed away from that number, stating that the cost is likely to be closer to 5 to 6 percent of the budget. (See ACT, April 2015.)

The Defense Department and the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration are required by law to submit a joint annual report to Congress that includes 10-year budget estimates for nuclear forces and their supporting infrastructure.

The most recent joint report, submitted to Congress in May 2014, projected $298 billion in spending between fiscal years 2015 and 2024 in then-year dollars, according to a July assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress.

In the past, the GAO and some members of Congress have criticized the joint report for undercounting the cost of certain nuclear modernization programs. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) The July GAO assessment found that the May 2014 joint report was much more comprehensive than previous iterations, but said “opportunities exist to further enhance transparency.”

Bloomberg, however, reported on Aug. 17 that, apparently unbeknownst to the GAO, last year’s joint report and the 2015 version, which has yet to be publicly released, misstated the 10-year cost estimate for the long-range strike bomber program. The Air Force is developing a new nuclear-capable bomber to complement and then replace the existing B-52H and B-2A aircraft.

Whereas the May 2014 joint report included a 10-year estimate of $33.1 billion in then-year dollars for the new bomber, the Air Force is now saying the correct number should have been $41.7 billion, according to Bloomberg.

The Air Force told Bloomberg that the estimated cost of the program between fiscal years 2016 and 2025 is also $41.7 billion, a reduction of nearly $17 billion from the $58.4 billion figure cited in the original version of the 2015 joint report submitted to Congress.

In an Aug. 24 press conference at the Pentagon, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the misreporting of the bomber cost to Congress was a “regrettable error” and blamed a lack of “coordination” within the Air Force and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. James did not provide an explanation for why the two corrected estimates are now the same.

Earlier on Aug. 24, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services oversight subcommittee, sent a letter to James, expressing concern about “recent reports indicating massive discrepancies” in 10-year cost estimates for the new bomber. She called on the Air Force to detail the steps it is taking “to ensure the accuracy” of future cost estimates for the program.

Amid questions about the credibility of the Defense Department’s budget estimates for nuclear weapons, an August report published by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments sought to provide a more detailed, long-term assessment of nuclear costs and put them in the context of overall national defense spending.

Written by Todd Harrison and Evan Braden Montgomery, senior fellows at the center, the report estimated that sustaining and modernizing nuclear weapons and their supporting infrastructure will cost $222-253 billion in then-year dollars over the 10-year period between fiscal years 2015 and 2024 and $836-963 billion over the 30-year period between 2014 and 2043.

Harrison and Montgomery concluded, “Although the costs of sustaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear forces are projected to grow in the years ahead…those costs will still account for a small fraction of total defense spending, even at their peak.”

The two analysts calculate that nuclear weapons will not exceed 5 percent of the total national defense budget over the next 25 years, even at the peaks of the anticipated nuclear spending bow wave in the mid-2020s. They dispute the notion that nuclear weapons impose a uniquely significant budget burden, saying, “What the United States can or cannot afford depends on the priorities set by policymakers.”

Harrison and Montgomery’s estimate is lower than the government’s projection due to different assumptions about how to count nuclear costs. For example, they attribute the bulk of the cost of acquiring and operating nuclear-capable bombers to conventional needs and only a fraction to the nuclear mission. The Pentagon includes the full cost of the bombers in its estimate of nuclear costs. 

The Defense Department’s plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal will “roughly double” the percentage of the budget allocated to nuclear weapons, according to a senior department official. 

CSBA Downplays Nuclear Effect on Budget, Potential Nuclear Savings

On August 4 the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) published a detailed estimate of the long-term costs of sustaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons and their supporting infrastructure. The report, written by CSBA’s Todd Harrison and Evan Braden Montgomery, concludes that “Although the costs of sustaining and modernizing U.S. nuclear forces are projected to grow in the years ahead…those costs will still account for a small fraction of total defense spending, even at their peak.” Moreover, they write, “cutting nuclear weapons is unlikely to provide enough savings to...

Air Force Drafts Plan for Follow-On ICBM

July/August 2015

Updated: July 8, 2015

By Kingston Reif

U.S. Air Force airmen install a cable raceway on an intercontinental ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 3, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder/RELEASED)An initial Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system calls for procuring 642 missiles, 400 of which would be operationally deployed, multiple sources told Arms Control Today in recent months. The remaining missiles would be used for flight tests and as spares to support the program’s anticipated 50-year lifespan, the sources said.

If the U.S. government moves ahead with the proposal, it will have a capability extending into the 2070s to deploy 400 ICBMs, the number that the United States will have in 2018 under the terms of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

To meet the treaty limits, the Defense Department has said it will reduce the U.S. arsenal from its current level—447 deployed missiles as of September 2014—while retaining 50 nondeployed missile launchers.

During interviews in May and June, the sources said the preliminary acquisition cost estimate for the Minuteman III replacement system—an option studied under the Pentagon’s Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program—is $62.3 billion, which covers a 30-year period between fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2044.

In a subsequent e-mail exchange, Air Force representatives confirmed the estimated cost and the number of planned missiles to be purchased and deployed.

The $62.3 billion cost estimate was first reported on June 5 by Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor. The newsletter quoted Ed Gulick, an Air Force spokesman, as saying the draft estimate was completed in February by the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s ICBM System Program Office and that it includes $48.5 billion for the missiles, $6.9 billion for command and control systems, and $6.9 billion to renovate the launch control centers and launch facilities.

In a June 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Gulick said that the cost estimate is in “then-year dollars,” meaning it includes inflationary increases expected to occur in the program over the 30-year time horizon of the estimate.

Options Studied

Last summer, the Air Force conducted an analysis of alternatives to sustain the ICBM force beyond the anticipated end of the Minuteman III’s service life in 2030.

Gulick said the analysis initially examined five options, but after discussions with senior officials in the defense secretary’s office, the analysis narrowed its focus to three alternatives: a “baseline” option that would extend the life of the Minuteman III through 2075, a “replacement system capitalizing” on the existing Minuteman III silo infrastructure, and a “hybrid” option that would “mix” the existing Minuteman III silo infrastructure with new road-mobile ICBMs.

A request for information issued by the Air Force on Jan. 23 seeking information and feedback from defense industry companies said the United States “is preparing to acquire a replacement for” the Minuteman III system “that replaces the entire flight system” and “retains the silo basing modes.”

Maj. Melissa Milner, one of the Air Force representatives, said in a June 19 e-mail that the current program cost estimate of $62.3 billion is “focused on a replacement system that reflects a missile similar in size to the Minuteman III.” The Air Force has not provided a public cost estimate for the other options.

Milner did not indicate whether the GBSD missile would have a completely new design or would incorporate significant design features from the Minuteman III.

Deployment of the replacement missile system is scheduled to begin in 2027. 

In remarks at a June 16 event in Washington, Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, the deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said the United States cannot “continue to sustain” the Minuteman III.

Questions Raised

One former government official said the cost estimate for the replacement system suggested a new ICBM, an approach that he questioned.

It’s “hard to believe” the Pentagon would choose to design and build a new missile because there is no military need to do so, retired Col. Mark Cancian, who recently left the U.S. Office of Management and Budget after seven years as director of its force structure and management division, said in June 15 interview.

Cancian, now a senior adviser in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, added that there is “no way the Air Force can afford” a new fleet of ICBMs given the cost of plans to modernize other elements of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, such as building new ballistic missile submarines and long-range bombers.

A 2014 report by the RAND Corp. on the future of the ICBM force found that “any new ICBM alternative will very likely cost almost two times—and perhaps even three times—more than incremental modernization of the current Minuteman III system.”

The GBSD program is slated to face a key acquisition milestone early next year, when the defense secretary’s office will decide whether the program should proceed to the next stage of the acquisition process. This stage includes maturing the technology, refining requirements, and finalizing cost estimates for the program.

In the lead-up to this decision point, known as a milestone A decision, the Defense Department is reviewing the acquisition strategy for the program.

Cancian said that although the Air Force may be evaluating a new missile, this approach is not yet a formal Air Force plan or recommendation. “A lot could change” when the program “comes up for decision and has to compete with other programs,” he said.

ICBMs make up the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad of delivery systems, which also consists of submarine-launched missiles and long-range bombers. Long-range bombers can carry air-launched cruise missiles and gravity bombs.

In a speech in Berlin on June 19, 2013, President Barack Obama said he would seek to reduce the numbers of U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. (Photo by Mathias Krohn/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The deployed Minuteman III missiles are dispersed in underground silos at three U.S. bases: Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, and F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. Each missile is deployed with one nuclear warhead.

The Minuteman III, which has a range of more than 8,000 miles, was first fielded in 1970 with a planned service life of 10 years. Production of the missile ended in 1977. A total of 794 missiles were acquired at a cost of $41.4 billion, as measured in fiscal year 2012 dollars, according to the RAND report.

Several multibillion-dollar life extension programs have kept the Minuteman III in service for more than 40 years. Nearly the entire missile has been refurbished, including the propellant and guidance and propulsion systems.

President Barack Obama determined in 2013 that the United States could reduce “deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” but he conditioned further reductions on negotiations with Russia.

Greg Weaver, principal director for nuclear and missile defense policy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, told Inside the Air Force on Feb. 20 that given the uncertain prospects for a future arms control agreement with Russia after New START expires in 2021, the GBSD program “is budgeted based on the current policy” and “arms control limits.”

Weaver added that the approach could change if Russia and the United States agreed to further nuclear weapons reductions at some point in the future.

An initial Air Force proposal for replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile calls for procuring 
642 missiles.

Obama Signs Nuclear Security Legislation

July/August 2015

By Kingston Reif

Participants attend a session of the 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington on April 13, 2010. At the summit, the United States pledged to accelerate efforts to complete its ratification of two nuclear security treaties. (Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)President Barack Obama on June 2 signed legislation to implement two treaties that strengthen global efforts to prevent and counter nuclear terrorism, five years after he first submitted draft legislation to Congress. 

The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on May 14 and the Senate on June 2, updates the U.S. criminal code to bring the United States into compliance with the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. 

In a June 4 statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said the passage of the legislation  was “yet another indication that the United States is committed on a bipartisan basis to eliminating the greatest threat to global security: nuclear terrorism.” 

The 2005 amendment to the CPPNM expands the original treaty to require parties not only to protect nuclear material in international transit, but also to protect nuclear facilities and nuclear material that is in domestic storage, use, or transit. 

The anti-terrorism convention establishes a framework to strengthen cooperation among countries in combating nuclear terrorism and provides details on how offenders and illicit materials should be handled by states when seized.

The George W. Bush administration submitted the treaties to the Senate in September 2007, and the Senate overwhelmingly approved them in September 2008. But the agreements require all states-parties to establish specific criminal offenses in areas such as the possession and use of radioactive material, nuclear smuggling, and sabotage of nuclear facilities. This required Congress to pass legislation to update the U.S. criminal code.

The Obama administration first submitted a proposal for the implementing legislation to Congress for approval in March 2010, a month before pledging at the first nuclear security summit to accelerate efforts to complete ratification. 

The new law also includes implementing language for two protocols to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

The House passed implementing legislation for the four treaties in 2012 and again in 2013, but the Senate failed to do so, largely because of a dispute between Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, over whether the Justice Department should be able to pursue the death penalty for a lethal act of nuclear terrorism and seek legal authority for wiretaps to investigate the new crimes created by the legislation. (See ACT, November 2012.

House Judiciary Committee members had negotiated with the administration to remove the controversial measures prior to passing their own version of the legislation. The House bills established a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a maximum fine of $2 million for an “act of nuclear terrorism” resulting in death.

This year, frustrated by the deadlock in the Senate, the House Judiciary Committee attached the implementing language for the treaties to its version of the USA Freedom Act, which passed the full House on May 14 by a vote of 338–88. That act modifies several provisions of the Patriot Act, including the collection of telecommunication metadata. 

The Senate passed the act on the afternoon of June 2 by a vote of 67–32. Obama signed the bill that night. 

At the March 2012 nuclear security summit in Seoul, the participants pledged to seek the entry into force of the CPPNM amendment by the March 2014 summit in The Hague. The amendment’s entry into force requires ratification by two-thirds of the parties to the CPPNM. Of the treaty’s 152 parties, 84—short of the needed 101—had approved the amendment by February 2015, according to the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the depositary for the treaty and the amendment. 

The anti-terrorism convention, which entered into force in 2007, has been signed by 115 states and ratified by 99. 

Kerry noted that the ratification would fulfill the commitment the United States originally made in 2010.

“We call on all countries who share our commitment to preventing nuclear terrorism to join and fully implement these treaties,” he added.

President Barack Obama on June 2 signed legislation to implement two treaties that strengthen global efforts to prevent and counter nuclear terrorism. 

Strengthening Congressional Oversight of 123 Agreements



Volume 7, Issue 8, July 2, 2015

While most of the recent conversation about nuclear nonproliferation in Congress has focused on the negotiations in Vienna on a verifiable, long-term comprehensive nuclear deal to block Iran's pathways to nuclear weapons, lawmakers are also considering another lower-profile, but nonetheless consequential, civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with China.

This "123 agreement," named after Section 123 of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, sets the terms for sharing U.S. peaceful nuclear energy technology, equipment, and materials with China. 123 agreements ensure that U.S. civil nuclear cooperation with other countries conforms to U.S. export control laws, meets Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing requirements, meets the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and is used exclusively for peaceful purposes and not the development of nuclear weapons.

The administration submitted the proposed 123 agreement with China on April 21. U.S. law provides Congress the opportunity to review a nuclear cooperation agreement for 90 days of continuous session. If Congress does not pass a resolution disapproving the agreement before the end of this period, the agreement may enter into force.

While the administration argues the China agreement will advance the nonproliferation and other foreign policy interests of the United States, Congress should closely scrutinize the deal to ensure that it contains appropriate nonproliferation safeguards. 

Most importantly, as Congress reviews the agreement and prepares to consider a new agreement with South Korea--and potentially other agreements in the near future--Congress should consider strengthening the nonproliferation standards and procedures for congressional review of 123 agreements mandated by the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, which have not been revisited since 1978.

123 Agreements and U.S. Nonproliferation Policy

Since the beginning of the nuclear age, efforts to exploit nuclear technology for energy and for profit have complicated the task of reducing the nuclear weapons threat.

The United States has appropriately sought to deny the transfer of sensitive nuclear technologies--particularly enrichment and reprocessing technologies--to states that do not already possess the technology through the terms of our nuclear cooperation agreements.

After the Indian test explosion in 1974, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act in 1978 to mandate tougher bulwarks against the diversion of U.S. nuclear assistance for military uses. The amendment put in place nine new provisions, including the requirement that recipients of U.S. civil nuclear cooperation have in place a full scope of safeguards. The Atomic Energy Act has not been updated since.

Some members of Congress have argued that the Obama administration's policy on nuclear cooperation agreements is "inconsistent" because it does not require that all states foreswear enrichment and reprocessing, which some have dubbed the "Gold Standard." 

The so-called "Gold Standard" was enshrined in the recent 123 agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan, and is a useful addition to the global nonproliferation regime, complementing other U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technology. 

The United States should seek the inclusion of a legally-binding no-enrichment and reprocessing commitment in new agreements and agreements up for renewal with countries that do not already have these capabilities. However, securing such a commitment will not be possible in all cases, in part because sovereign states are extremely reluctant to forego future technology and commercial options. 

Yet, Congress could consider adjusting the review procedures for 123 agreements that do not include commitments to forego enrichment and reprocessing (or other key standard such as adherence to the tougher International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards under the terms of the additional protocol) so they are subject to an affirmative vote of approval.

The China Agreement

The current 30-year U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement with China entered into force in 1985, but implementation did not begin until 1998 because of certification requirements established by Congress. The new agreement would be another 30-year deal and replace the existing agreement that is set to expire at the end of this year. 

Overall, China's nonproliferation record has improved significantly since the 1980s and 1990s. For example, China has joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It has put its civilian reactors under safeguards and increased cooperation with the United States on nuclear material security. In addition, Beijing has curtailed the transfer of technologies and information that have assisted Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and Iran's nuclear program. 

Nonetheless, concerns remain. 

The Nonproliferation Assessment Statement (NPAS) prepared by the U.S. State Department about the 123 agreement, raises concerns about the potential Chinese misuse of civil nuclear technology for military purposes, proliferation of dual-use materials and technologies involving Chinese entities, and China's provision to Pakistan of additional nuclear reactors, which is inconsistent with the Chinese commitments made when it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004.

In addition, some have objected to a provision in the agreement granting each party "advance consent" to reprocess U.S.-obligated nuclear material. This kind of permission, which is not bestowed in the current agreement, has been included in 123 agreements with India and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). China is planning to build commercial reprocessing facilities to reprocess much of its spent fuel domestically.

However, President Barack Obama noted in a March 26, 2012 speech in South Korea that the world "simply can't go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we're trying to keep away from terrorists." It's not clear how providing China with advance consent to reprocessing will reduce global stocks of separated plutonium.

The administration argues the economic, diplomatic, and environmental benefits of the agreement merit continuing nuclear cooperation with China despite ongoing nonproliferation concerns. They point to enhanced features in the new agreement that go beyond the current deal, especially in the area of preventing the diversion of civil nuclear technology and material for military use. They note that any reprocessing of U.S. obligated material would require a future agreement on "arrangements and procedures" and could take place only at facilities that are under or eligible for IAEA safeguards. Rejecting the deal, they say, will leave the United States in a weaker position to influence China's nonproliferation behavior

If Congress is concerned about the nonproliferation risks of nuclear cooperation with China, there are steps it can take to ensure effective oversight of cooperation. 

For example, lawmakers could require regular reports from the administration about China's adherence to the deal and whether it is making progress on strengthening export controls and cracking down on entities engaged in proliferating dual-use goods and technologies.

In addition, the agreement notes that the parties "shall take account into account the need to avoid contributing to the risks of nuclear proliferation...and the importance of balancing supply and demand, including demand for reasonable working stocks for civil nuclear operations." If Congress is concerned about the possibility of Chinese reprocessing, it could ask for a report on how these criteria are being met, if China carries out reprocessing that falls under the agreement.

Updating the Atomic Energy Act

If Congress wants a greater degree of consistency and higher nonproliferation standards in 123 agreements, it can legislate higher standards that should be sought and if those standards are not all achieved, Congress could revise the process by which such agreements should be considered for approval or disapproval by the Congress. 

Such an effort would reinforce the revised voluntary guidelines approved in 2011 by the 46-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group not to transfer enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology exports to states that have not signed or are not in compliance with the nuclear NPT, do not allow safeguards, and do not allow more extensive monitoring under the terms of an additional protocol, among other criteria.
Two bipartisan bills introduced in the House in 2011 and 2013 (H.R. 1280 and H.R. 3766) offer a useful framework to consider and build on. 

The bills would not have required that states adopt the gold standard. Instead, the bills would add several new requirements to the nine key requirements already in Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act that, if met, would "fast track" that country's nuclear cooperation agreement for approval.

Agreements with states that cannot meet the higher set of standards would be subject to a more rigorous process requiring affirmative congressional approval. 

Among the most important new requirements for "fast track" approval that were in the House bills included

  • the application of the IAEA 1997 Model Additional Protocol (dozens of states have not yet approved an additional protocol, including Algeria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia); and
  • a pledge from countries that do not already possess enrichment and reprocessing capabilities not to acquire these capabilities and/or facilities to conduct them 

Other conditions that might be considered in updating the Atomic Energy Act include

  • clarifying that the recipient state must allow for the application of its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement under the terms of the most up-to-date IAEA revisions, which today are known as code 3.1;
  • requiring termination of U.S. nuclear cooperation in the event the recipient state conducts a nuclear test explosion, is found to be in violation of its IAEA safeguards obligations, or acquires enrichment or reprocessing equipment from sources other than the United States;
  • requiring affirmative congressional approval for agreements that provide advance consent to enrich and/or reprocess (except in states that already have prior approval to do so);
  • requiring affirmative congressional approval for agreements lasting more than 30 years; and
  • revising Section 131 of the Atomic Energy Act to lengthen the current 15-day congressional review period for subsequent arrangements to 123 agreements involving the reprocessing of U.S.-origin nuclear material or nuclear material produced with U.S. supplied technology (subsequent arrangements are required for forms of nuclear cooperation requiring additional Congressional approval, such as recipient states' enrichment or reprocessing of nuclear material transferred pursuant to the agreement).

In light of (1) the growing interest in nuclear power in geopolitically sensitive regions of the globe; (2) the inclusion of the "Gold Standard" in the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan agreements; and (3) new Nuclear Supplier Group rules adopted in 2011, it is prudent to examine how the Atomic Energy Act might be updated to better address the proliferation risks of today-and tomorrow.—KINGSTON REIF, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy


The administration submitted the proposed 123 agreement with China on April 21.

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Congress Finally Passes Legislation to Prevent and Counter Nuclear Terrorism

Today, as part of the USA Freedom Act, the Senate passed language to implement key requirements of two important, and long overdue agreements that strengthen global efforts to prevent and counter nuclear terrorism, paving the way for their ratification. The two agreements —the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) – require state parties to better protect nuclear materials and to punish acts of nuclear terrorism. While the United States already has...

Cost Estimate for MOX Plant Jumps

June 2015

By Kingston Reif

The U.S. government will need to spend at least $47.5 billion to complete the construction of and operate a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, according to an independent assessment made public last month.

That figure represents a jump of 89 percent from the $29 billion that the Energy Department estimated last year for the project.

The MOX facility is designed to turn surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into fuel for power reactors. Under an agreement that Russia and the United States signed in 2000, each country is required to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium.

The new report, which was completed in April, was prepared for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous part of the Energy Department, by the Aerospace Corporation, a federally funded research and development center based in California. The fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill passed by Congress last December directed the NNSA to commission an independent review of the costs and schedule for two options for disposing of excess weapons-grade plutonium: fabricating the plutonium into MOX fuel for use in a reactor or down-blending it with an inert material for direct disposal in a repository.

The $47.5 billion “to-go” cost assumes $500 million in annual funding for the MOX project, or roughly $150 million above what Congress appropriated for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 and the administration requested for 2016. (See ACT, March 2015.) At this spending rate, the MOX facility would begin operating in 2044 and complete operations in 2059, according to the report.

The Aerospace Corporation also estimated the remaining project cost if the annual funding rate were $375 million, much closer to current funding levels. At this level, the facility would not begin operating until 2100 and cost approximately $110 billion to complete, the report said.

Neither cost estimate includes the roughly $4 billion that has already been spent on the project.

The completion cost of the down-blending option was estimated at $17.2 billion, with an expected program completion date of 2029.

Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for Shaw Areva MOX Services, the main contractor in charge of building the MOX facility, ­disputed the Aerospace Corporation’s estimates.

“By our calculations, it will take an additional $3.3 billion to complete the project, and it will be done in 5-9 years, depending on the amount of annual funding appropriations,” he said in an April 22 statement.

The U.S. government will need to spend at least $47.5 billion to complete the construction of and operate a MOX fuel fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, according to an independent assessment made public last month.

Air Force Clarifies Cruise Missile Plan

June 2015

By Kingston Reif

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks during a May 6 hearing of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee in this video image. Feinstein questioned the need for the new cruise missile that the Air Force is pursuing. (Senate Appropriations Committee)Only a portion of the 1,000 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) that the Air Force is proposing to build will be deployed with nuclear warheads, according to an Air Force official.

Arms Control Today reported last month that the Air Force is seeking about 1,000 new nuclear-capable ALCMs, roughly double the size of the existing fleet of ALCMs. (See ACT, May 2015.)

In a May 7 e-mail in response to the story, an Air Force official said the number of new ALCMs “to be acquired includes a large number of spare and test missiles that will be required throughout the life of the program.” The Air Force has declined to provide additional details on the planned numbers of deployed, spare, and test missiles.

“This means that the planned purchase of 1,000 missiles includes far more missiles than we plan to operationally arm and deploy in our nuclear force,” the official added.

The official said that the requirements issued by President Barack Obama for deployed ALCMs “have not increased.”

The existing ALCM can be carried by the B-52 bomber. The missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 miles, was first fielded in 1982 with a planned service life of 10 years. Multiple life extension programs have kept the missile in service for more than 30 years. The Air Force is planning to retain the missile until 2030.

The Air Force is developing the long-range standoff cruise missile to replace the existing ALCM. The new missile will be compatible with the B-2 and B-52 bombers, as well as the planned long-range strike bomber.

The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 budget request proposed to increase spending to accelerate by two years the development of the long-range standoff missile and the modified warhead that it would carry, partially reversing the fiscal year 2015 proposal to delay development of both by three years. (See ACT, March 2015.)

The United States does not maintain any nuclear weapons loaded on its deployed heavy bombers on a day-to-day basis. Nuclear weapons for bombers are stored separately in bunkers on or near their air bases.

The Air Force currently retains 575 nuclear-capable ALCMs, down from the original production run of 1,715 missiles, which concluded in 1986. The service declined to comment on whether the existing ALCM was built with a similar ratio of deployed weapons to spare and test missiles as that proposed for the new 1,000-missile plan.

Some members of Congress continued to express skepticism about the need for any new nuclear cruise missiles.

At a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing on May 6, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questioned whether the United States requires a new “cruise missile that can deliver nuclear warheads from great distances in addition to the numerous gravity bombs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and intercontinental ballistic missiles we’ve armed ourselves with.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Feinstein at the hearing that the reason for a new cruise missile “is to replace the cruise missiles that exist now…in recognition of the fact that air defenses are improving around the world and that keeping that capability to penetrate air defenses with our nuclear deterrent is an important one.”

In a May 14 interview published on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, defended the need for a new cruise missile on the grounds that “air-launched systems are inherently more stabilizing” because bombers are “slow flying” and “if a decision is made to launch the bomber force, then they can also be recalled.”

Gottemoeller added that the plan to build 1,000 new missiles “is not in my view unreasonable.”

Meanwhile, the House-passed version of the fiscal year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would require the defense secretary to submit to Congress a report on the justification for the planned number of new cruise missiles, including the rationale for building the expected number of missiles and how the number of planned missiles aligns with Obama’s nuclear weapons employment guidance.

The report was proposed by Rep. Michael Quigley (D-Ill.) as an amendment to the defense bill. The amendment, which was cosponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), was approved by the full House on a voice vote.

In a May 15 press release, Quigley said his action was prompted by “new information that the Air Force is planning to procure 1,000 [long-range standoff missiles]” and would “promote a more modest and responsible nuclear weapons budget.”

A number of organizations, including the Arms Control Association, have supported efforts this year to reduce funding for the new cruise missile and associated warhead refurbishment programs.

The Air Force says that only a portion of the 1,000 new nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles it is proposing to build will be deployed with nuclear warheads.

The Iran Deal and Preventing Proliferation in the Middle East

On April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, Iran the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) reached a breakthrough on the parameters of an agreement to verifiably roll back and constrain Iran’s nuclear program. As 30 leading nonproliferation specialists detailed in an April 6 statement , a comprehensive agreement based on these parameters would be a net win for nonproliferation and international security. Yet, a concern repeatedly voiced against the developing deal, which would allow for a limited Iranian uranium-enrichment program, is that it will encourage...

NATO Monitoring Russian Saber Rattling

May 2015

By Kingston Reif

NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow, shown in this November 2014 photo, said recent Russian actions and comments dealing with the country’s nuclear arsenal were “irresponsible.” (NATO)NATO is in the process of determining whether “increased Russian attention to nuclear weapons” should prompt steps such as military exercises “to make sure that there is no doubt about the effectiveness of our deterrent,” Alexander Vershbow, the alliance’s deputy secretary-general, said last month. 

In a video posted on the website of Defense News on March 29, Vershbow said the Russians “are flaunting their nuclear capability, they are holding more nuclear exercises, and they are talking about their nuclear capabilities” as “part of their messaging.” 

“Maybe this is just rhetoric, but it is irresponsible nonetheless,” he added.

Among other recent nuclear threats from Russian officials, Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, said on March 21 that “Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles” if Denmark joins NATO’s ballistic missile defense system. 

It is unclear what specific nuclear-related steps, if any, NATO may be considering to respond to these threats. 

On the issue of NATO’s nuclear policy posture, Vershbow said the alliance members “think we still have an effective posture.”

In an April 10 e-mail, a NATO official said that “NATO does not comment on military contingency planning.” 

But the official said that NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), which acts as the alliance’s senior body on nuclear matters, convened Feb. 5 during the last meeting of NATO defense ministers. The NPG meetings take place about once a year and “provide an opportunity for Allies to address the safety and effectiveness of our nuclear forces,” he said. 

The official added that NATO’s “nuclear readiness levels have not changed since the start of the Ukraine crisis.” Relations between NATO and Russia have deteriorated significantly since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continued action in eastern Ukraine, resulting in the imposition of Western economic sanctions against Russia. The official also said NATO is not considering the basing of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states.

On the other hand, he emphasized that “NATO is currently implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.” 

Such steps include increasing NATO’s presence on the territory of the alliance’s easternmost members and doubling the size of the NATO Response Force to up to 30,000 troops. The response force is a multinational force that the alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed. 

“All of this shows that NATO is serious about deterrence, and stands ready to defend all Allies against any threat,” the official said.


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