Bush Administration Wasting Billions on Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Research and Production, Report Charges

Administration Is Spending 12 Times More on Beefing Up Nuclear Research and Production than Curbing Nuclear Proliferation

WASHINGTON (April 13, 2004) -- Despite the end of the Cold War, the Bush administration is spending 12 times more on nuclear weapons research and production than on nonproliferation efforts to retrieve, secure and dispose of nuclear weapons materials worldwide, according to an analysis of Department of Energy programs released today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). Much of the spending on weapons research and production, which amounted to $6.5 billion in fiscal 2004, is funding costly projects that are "irrelevant to the defense and security challenges" that confront the nation, the report found. (The report is available here.)

"The Energy Department is asking Congress for $6.8 billion for nuclear weapons projects for next year's budget -- double what we spent a decade ago," said Christopher Paine, a senior policy analyst at NRDC's Nuclear Program and author of the report. "Spending billions to extend the life of thousands of Cold War nuclear warheads is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. The government could keep a small fraction of those weapons in the stockpile and spend the rest of the money to make the world safer by eliminating nuclear threats."

The report, "Weaponeers of Waste," focuses on a half-dozen DOE nuclear weapons projects at the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories, revealing they are billions of dollars over budget and years behind in meeting their goals. The projects are part of the "stockpile stewardship" program, whose purpose was to guarantee a safe and reliable nuclear weapons stockpile in absence of full-scale underground testing.

"DOE has pursued these projects over the past decade with little accountability or oversight, consuming vast sums of money along the way," said Paine. "At a time of record budget deficits, it's time for Congress to take a hard look at these programs and either cancel them outright or cut them back significantly."

The main projects reviewed are located at the three national weapons laboratories: Los Alamos in New Mexico, Lawrence Livermore in California, and Sandia in New Mexico and California. Among the projects are a gigantic high-energy fusion laser being built at Livermore, a facility that is supposed to test the "primary," or first stage, of a nuclear weapon at Los Alamos, a host of high-speed computer programs at all three labs, and plans to resurrect U.S. nuclear weapon production capability by manufacturing plutonium pits. All of these projects have proven to be costly boondoggles.

For example, DOE sold Livermore's high-energy fusion laser, the massive National Ignition Facility (NIF), to Congress in 1997 by saying it would be ready to begin the quest for fusion ignition in fiscal year 2005 at a cost of $1.2 billion. Now it appears that DOE's weapons laboratory scientists vastly overstated their scientific and technical readiness to pursue fusion ignition experiments, and that an ignition-ready NIF project will cost as much as $5 billion to $8 billion by the time of the first ignition demonstration sometime between 2010 and 2014, if it happens at all.

DOE also is pushing for a new facility at South Carolina's Savannah River Site to produce tritium, a gas placed in warheads to enhance nuclear explosions. The facility, originally due to begin production at the end of this year at a cost of $391 million, will now cost at least $506 million, and startup has been pushed back three years, to late 2007. "In a real world sense, however, this hardly matters," Paine pointed out, "because if the United States adopted a sensible nuclear arms reduction policy, the facility would not be needed for decades."

At $6.5 billion, the current level of annual U.S. spending on nuclear weapons greatly exceeds the $4.2 billion (in 2004 dollars) the nation spent, on average, every year throughout the Cold War, which stretched from 1948 to 1991. Over the next five years the Bush administration plans to spend $36.6 billion to modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile and laboratory production complex, including $485 million to develop, test, and begin production of the controversial robust nuclear earth penetrating warhead.

Developing a new generation of nuclear weapons could restart an international arms race, Paine said, making the world less secure. "Essentially we are now in an arms race with ourselves, but we could spur other countries, like China and Russia, to jump back in."
The report recommends that Congress:

  • Defer action on any new facility or weapons refurbishment request until the administration submits and Congress approves a plan reducing the number of nuclear warheads to sensible levels in a post-Cold War world.
  • Consolidate the nuclear weapons complex to eliminate Cold War redundancies, reduce its size, and curb security costs, which are escalating rapidly.
  • End funding for the robust nuclear earth penetrator and other new nuclear weapon designs.
  • End funding for preparations to resume nuclear testing.
  • Scrap plans to build a new facility to manufacture plutonium nuclear bomb pits and instead replace worn-out pits by refurbishing 20 to 50 per year, based on existing recycled or recast designs.
  • Reinvigorate unilateral, bilateral, multilateral, and international efforts to reduce and eliminate national stocks of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable nuclear materials.
  • Direct DOE to establish an independent outside advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act to conduct peer reviews of stockpile stewardship and technology projects.