Friday, September 30, 2011

Life Support for US Nuclear Weapons Program?

The following information concerning the ongoing US nuclear weapons program has been taken from the DOE/NNSA's Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSM) Summary for FY2011, issued May 2010.

The first page of this document includes a fragment from the April, 2009 "President's Vision" of a nuclear weapons free future: " ... we will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same."

Then, in the Preface, Section 1 "National Policy and Strategy", Subsection 1B "International Treaty Obligations", reference is made to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which the USA is a signatory. This Treaty obliges the USA to "pursue nuclear disarmament." DOE/NNSA asserts that the USA "will make progress toward nuclear disarmament over the next decade", and that "NNSA will support these efforts by managing a safe, secure, and effective nuclear arsenal without developing new weapons, conducting underground nuclear testing, or providing any new military capabilities to existing weapons systems."

The "effective nuclear arsenal", referred to above, is described in Sect 3.A. "Stockpile Composition" (p21):

B61-3/4 Non-strategic bomb for F-15, F-16, and other certified NATO aircraft; developed by LANL/SNL
B61-7   Strategic bomb for B-52 and B-2; developed by LANL/SNL
B61-11  Strategic bomb for B-2; developed by LANL/SNL
B83-1   Strategic bomb for B-52 and B-2; developed by LLNL/SNL
W78     ICBM warhead for MM III ICBM; developed by LANL/SNL
W87     ICBM warhead for MM III ICBM; developed by LLNL/SNL
W76-0/1 SLBM warhead for D5 Trident Sub; developed by LLANL/SNL
W88     SLBM warhead for D5 Trident Sub; developed by LANL/SNL
W80-0   TLAM/N for Attack Sub; developed by LLNL/SNL
W80-1   ALCM/ACM for B-52; developed by LLNL/SNL

With regard to costs, beginning on p23 of the Summary are three charts describing the projected costs (out to 2025) of the Life Extension Programs (LEP) for the W76 (a maximum of $300 million per year), the B61 (a maximum of $500 million per year), and the W78 (a maximum of $400 million per year.).

A more recent follow-on to this document is the Stockpile Stewardship and Management (SSM) Plan for FY2012, issued April 15, 2011:

In this latest SSM Plan, the "President's Vision" of a nuclear weapons free future, an excerpt from which appeared on the first page of last year's SSM Plan, is ignored. And mention of the USA's obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which appeared in the Preface of last year's SSM Plan, is also ignored.

Nevertheless, of continuing interest to a concerned citizenry is a detailed description of the Life Extension Program, and its costs, as it will be applied to specific nuclear weapons systems. This begins on p75 under the heading "Weapon System Life Extensions and Services", wherein the W76, B61, W78, and W88 are each separately considered. Under the subheading "Experiments", separate strategies facilitating SSM are also addressed. These strategies involve use of DARHT (LANL), NIF (LLNL), the Contained Firing Facility, and the underground subcritical Test Facility (NNSS).

The ongoing CMRR-NF and the UPF construction projects are discussed beginning on p77. In Table 5, "Near Term Projects" (p79) the projected dollar costs of these projects is described; e.g., CMRR-NF ($3.7B - $5.9B), UPF ($4.2B - $6.5B), PF4 extension ($75M - $100M); HE pressing facility ($147M); TRU waste facility ($71M - $124M.)

On p81, in Table 6, appear estimates of total nuclear weapons expenditures, per year and by category, for the next ten years; viz., for 2012 the expected total cost is $7.6B; for 2021 the projected total cost will be $9.5B.

On p86, in Fig. 16, are the projected costs of performing a complete LEP on the W80 ALCM warhead. According to the existing plan, these costs will peak at $400M per year, beginning in 2026, and will maintain this level of spending through 2031.

On p88, in Fig. 20, appear estimates of the total cost (for the period 2003-2031) of each of the stockpiled nuclear weapons systems; viz., B61/$6.5B; W76/$5.5B, W78/$6.0B; W80/$4.5B; B83/$1.5B; W87/$2.5B; W88/$7.0B.

The nuclear weapons related Science Campaign accomplishments for 2010-2011 are described on p102-103, the Engineering campaign accomplishments are described on p106-107, and the ICF campaign accomplishments appear on p107-108.

In June of 2011, the General Accounting Office released an analysis of the DOE's SSM plans, insofar as these plans reflect on the "Modernization and Refurbishment of the Nuclear Security Enterprise". GAO concluded that, although "NNSA estimated that it will require over $180B to operate and modernize the nuclear security enterprise over the next two decades (2012-2031)", projected costs of NNSA's activities have been understated. In particular, GAO points out that the costs of NNSA's modernization program does not cover its congressionally mandated Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation program and its Naval reactor program.

GAO goes on to say that: "NNSA considers the $88B pledged by the Administration over the next decade as its operations and modernization baseline." Furthermore, GAO says that: "During FY2022-2031, NNSA estimates it will need another $92B to operate and modernize the nuclear security enterprise."

GAO mentions that there are now 12 ongoing NNSA line-item construction projects, including:

Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facilty (CMRR-NF) (LANL)
Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12)
High Explosive Pressing facility (HEPF) at Pantex Plant (Pantex)
Test Capabilities Revitalization Phase 2 (SNL)
TA-55 Reinvestment Project Phase 2 (LANL)
Transuranic (TRU) Waste Facilities (LANL)

There are 7 line-item construction projects slated to start by 2016; among these are:

Radioactive Liquid waste Treatment Facility (LANL)
High Explosives ST&E Facility (Pantex)
High Explosives Packaging and Staging Facility (Pantex)

And, there are 35 new line-item construction projects planned to begin in the second decade of the modernization project. Among these are:

Weapons Manufacturing Support Facility (LANL)
Life Extension Program and Warhead Assessment facility (LLNL)
Data Center Consolidation Project (NNSS)
Weapons Engineering Facility (SNL)
Consolidated Manufacturing Complex (Y-12)

GAO has also documented NNSA's poor record of project and contract management; viz., GAO notes that, although the CMRR-NF and UPF projects comprise 85% of NNSA's planned construction funding for the next ten years, firm cost and scheduling baselines still do not exist.


Since the inception of the American nuclear weapons program in 1943, its annual dollar costs have been large. And as discussed above, according to the latest SSM plans, the projected future DOE/NNSA costs of this program are also large. Moreover, DOE/NNSA's spending is only one component of the total cost of the US nuclear weapons program.

The DOD adds another important measure of spending to the nuclear weapons program. Just to consider the US fleet of nuclear powered missile carrying submarines: according to the US Navy website, there are presently 18 Ohio class,nuclear powered, missile carrying submarines in service, the total production cost of which has been ~$100B; 14 of these submarines carry ballistic missiles and 4 (the 4 oldest) carry guided missiles. The USS Ohio (the oldest boat) will reach its design lifetime of 42 years in 2023, and the USS Louisiana (the youngest) is due to retire in 2039. Before, or soon after reaching their design lifetime, all of these boats will have to be replaced, at an average cost of >$10B per boat, or a total cost of ~$200B. Similarly, the Air Force's fleet of B-52s will also soon have to be replaced, and the cost of this replacement will be equally large.

It is often said that the US nuclear weapons program has been a deterrent to war, and although the cost of this deterrent has been large, it could not have been as large as the cost of another major war.

Perhaps; however, the dollar cost to the US of ten years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan has already been >$1000B, and these two very expensive unconventional wars were not deterred by the US nuclear weapons program. Indeed, since the war in Afghanistan was a US response to the attack of 9/11, then both this attack and the subsequent war were not deterred. Similarly, and since the war in Iraq has been entirely a war of the US's choosing, existence of the US nuclear weapons program did not stop the US from attacking Iraq. 

And, could anyone imagine that the US nuclear weapons program would stop a nuclear attack on the US by nonstate actors who might obtain access to nuclear weapons?