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Friday, July 17, 1998

U.S. Nuclear Audit

Costs and consequences of U.S. nuclear weapons

William Heartstone, Staff Writer, Daily Republican Newspaper

WASHINGTON DESK - The cumulative economic cost of U.S. nuclear weapons is nearly $5.5 trillion. This according to a nuclear study by the Brookings Institution Press. The average estimated future-year costs for dismantling of nuclear weapons and the management and disposal of nuclear waste bring the total up to more than $5.8 trillion. There aren't enough $1 bills, to stack high enough to reach the 459,000 miles that equal that sum.

The Audit was released this week after four years of extensive research, including access to previously classified government documents and data.

It reveals that neither the American taxpayers nor its government officials have ever fully understood the annual and cumulative costs associated with building and maintaining the nuclear stockpile.

This is the only known public report to reveal a public perception of the actual costs of the U.S. nuclear program over time.

Without such data, it is unclear how the Clinton administration has been able, if at all, to weigh the benefits of military spending reduction and associated downsizing of U.S. nuclear deterrence against its real costs.

Brookings' Nuclear Audit Report appears to be an outgrowth of a story which appeared in 1995 Summer Issue of The Brookings Review, Vol. 13 No.3 'How to be a cheap hawk' written by a paid research assistant, Michael O'Hanlon.

O'Hanlon story concluded that '...America's strong strategic position and the overwhelming dominance of its military forces, together with the limited usability of those forces for addressing many types of conflict in the world today, make a strong case for further downsizing the U.S. military establishment...by modifying the U.S. approach to regional warfare, revamping traditional naval an Marine forward presence...and recasting deployment of nuclear warheads...'

Stanford University prof. Michael M. May, director emeritus of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [nuclear weapons development] has taken to supporting Brookings' public policy position on dumping the U.S. nuclear arsenal. However, in 1995 he told reporters '...nuclear weapons cheaply and predictably destroy whatver both sides are fighting for. It is just that ability to destroy the battlefield as well as the enemy, to leave war without winners, that makes them essential...' as deterrents to actual open warfare.

Among the Brookings' reported findings are:

  • Over the recent decade, U.S. military expenditures for nuclear weapons exceeded the combined total federal spending on education, training, employment, and social services, agriculture, natural resources, general science and space research, community and regional development, law enforcement, and energy production.
  • Eighty-six percent of U.S. nuclear weapons expenditures went toward deploying offensive and defensive weapons and building and maintaining command infrastructure for the 70,000 nuclear warhead arsenal.
  • The United States currently spends $35 billion a year, or about $96 million a day on the nuclear weapons system. However, under the Clinton administration $25 billion of the total is being spent on operating and maintaining the nuclear arsenal. The remaining $10 billion is spent on management, arms control agreement costs, and conducting research into ballistic missile defenses.

The Audit conducted four years of intensive research on costs of U.S. nuclear weapons from their development through the Manhattan Project during World War II through the present time.

The Audit also reports estimated costs of dismantling nuclear weapons, disposal of radioactive wastes, compensation for persons harmed by nuclear weapons activities, and the some economic implications of nuclear deterrence.

The Audit failed to offer any cost-benefit analyses for the value of U.S. nuclear preparedness and military defense to the security of the nation, its allies, and the emerging democracies of the world.

The main author of the Audit report is Stephen I. Schwartz, a guest Brookings scholar with the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project.

Contributing to the Audit report were Bruce G. Blair of the Brookings Institution; Thomas S. Blanton and William Burr, of the National Security Archive; Steven M. Kosiak, with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; Arjun Makhijani, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research; Robert S. Norris, Natural Resources Defense Council; Kevin O'Neill, Institute for Science and International Security; John Pike, Federation of American Scientists; and William J. Weida, Colorado College.

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