I wrote my May Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists column on the inaccurate (and irrelevant) charges made by Senators Inhofe, Corker, and others that the Obama administration has broken a sacred vow to sustain and modernize the US nuclear arsenal.
Here’s how I end:
Bringing policy in line with the fact that nuclear weapons play a fading security role would allow for significant changes to the US arsenal, and by extension, significant budget savings. Savings could even be found without reducing the arsenal below the New START level of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 700 deployed delivery systems, which should be appealing to fiscally hawkish Republicans. The decision to delay the plutonium facility at Los Alamos was one such example. Another option for savings is the B61 life-extension program, the cost of which has ballooned from $4 billion to $10 billion in just two years. In a recent congressional hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said the NNSA had considered but rejected a less-ambitious approach that could extend the life of the nuclear gravity bombs until at least the early 2030s for only $1.5 billion, or 85 percent less than the currently proposed program.
Inhofe and Corker may find it politically expedient to attack the administration for failing to come up with every single penny of what they believe was promised in 2010. But instead of quibbling about a few billion dollars over 10 years out of a total annual nuclear weapons budget of some $31 billion, both the Senate and the administration ought to ask whether it makes sense to lock in policies that guided us during the first 60 years of the nuclear age for the first 60 years of the 21st century.