News Release

As Tensions with Russia Rise, Obama’s Nuclear Budget Unprecedented

GREG MELLO, gmello at lasg.org, @TrishABQ Mello is executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, which just released the statement: “President Requests Unprecedented Spending on Nuclear Weapons Maintenance, Design, Production.” They report: “The Department of Energy budget request (FY2015) includes a requested $8.315 billion for nuclear ‘weapons activities’ in the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous component of DOE. … This is a 7 percent increase from the current year. The request is far higher, in constant dollars, than the $8.13 billion spent in 1985 for comparable work at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s surge in nuclear weapons spending, which was also the highest point of the Cold War.”

Mello said today: “The U.S. and other nuclear powers are supposed to be getting rid of their nuclear weapons. That’s their obligation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But the U.S. is modernizing its nuclear weapons — both warheads and delivery systems. A lot of this work isn’t necessary to simply maintain the warheads until their retirement. It’s to keep them forever, improve and replace them, and make sure the factories are in place to make more of them.

“As the current conflict in Ukraine illustrates, the world can’t depend on transient ‘good feelings’ between countries to avoid confrontations, which could lead to nuclear crises. Situations can arise and confusions can occur. Rhetoric can trap leaders into actions they wouldn’t normally choose. And the number of potential causes of serious inter-state conflict is growing. Access to scarce resources of all kinds is a growing problem, including basic necessities including oil, natural gas, water, and food. So the nuclear powers need to get serious about making good on their promises to get rid of their nuclear weapons — before the next crisis.

“In President Obama’s budget there are actually some reductions in the number of modernization programs, and there are delays — for example, the cruise missile warhead has been delayed three years, so wiser heads may hopefully prevail on that, and not build it. But there’s a real spike in overall spending.
“In addition to having big modernization ambitions, the rising budgets are partly because there are incredible inefficiencies in the warhead business. Contractors have been very successful at larding up their operations over the years, basically finding ways to spend what pork-barrel politicians could get for them. Former Sen. Pete Domenici is an example of someone who never saw a nuclear dollar he didn’t like. Today, there are thousands of mid-level PhDs making more than federal cabinet secretaries and top generals and admirals — far more than typical civil servants. The privatization fad that started in the 1980s and, in the warhead complex, took another big step under G.W. Bush, and has led to taxpayers being on the hook far more than they should be for NNSA programs. Taxpayers even contribute cold cash into the cushy pension plans of rich contractors like Bechtel, to the tune of hundreds of millions each year, under loose contracts written to obscure accountability and deliver cash and intellectual property to the corporations involved.”