On November 15, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Women’s Actions for New Directions (WAND) hosted an event on Capitol Hill titled “The Next Steps in Nuclear Risk Reduction: U.S. Policy and Spending Options in an Age of Austerity”.
The event featured introductory remarks by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Congressman Mike Quigley (D- IL). Sen. Feinstein is Chair of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee and Rep. Quigly is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. The event also featured an expert panel consisting of our Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (USA, ret), Steve Pifer of the Brookings Institution, and Amy Woolf of the Congressional Research Service.
You can read more about the event here. Sen. Feinstein’s opening remarks are pasted below. Some highlights include:
- “Let me begin by saying I agree with our nation’s military leaders—the U.S. has too many nuclear weapons and more can be done to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal.”
- “Thousands of weapons remain part of the “hedge.” For every deployed weapon, there will soon be four in the hedge, which means if 1,000 warheads are deployed, 4,000 will be available in a reserve capacity.”
- “The promise of the 3+2 plan was to provide a smaller stockpile in exchange for a larger investment. However, when the plan is examined, there is no decrease in the number of warheads.”
- “My most immediate concern is with the life extension of the B61 gravity bomb. I am concerned the B61 life-extension program is unaffordable at $10 billion and a more narrow scope of work would safely extend its life while meeting military requirements.”
- “Finally, I would like to highlight a worrying trend. Modernizing the nuclear weapons stockpile has come at the expense of nonproliferation activities.”
- “Since nuclear forces are larger than needed for current military missions, it is time to think more creatively about how to maintain a much smaller nuclear deterrent at an affordable cost.”
Introductory Remarks, Nuclear Weapons Panel Discussion Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, November 13, 2013
Good morning. I would like to thank Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Kingston Reif from the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation for inviting me to speak today.
I applaud your efforts in educating members of Congress, their staff, and the public about nuclear weapons issues.
I believe today’s panel discussion—led by Steve Pifer from Brookings and Amy Woolf from CRS—is an important part of an ongoing debate about the future of nuclear weapons policy.
Let me begin by saying I agree with our nation’s military leaders—the U.S. has too many nuclear weapons and more can be done to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal.
America’s arsenal consists of about 5,000 nuclear weapons, and most are far more destructive than the one that destroyed Hiroshima.
What remains unclear is how these weapons will help solve 21st century national security threats such as terrorism, cyber attacks or global warming.
There have been some positive steps in the last few years. In December 2010, I voted for the New START Treaty, which limits actively deployed weapons to 1,550. I also support the president’s new nuclear employment strategy to further reduce the deployed strategic stockpile to about 1,000 weapons.
However, these efforts are not designed to reduce the total size of the stockpile.
Thousands of weapons remain part of the “hedge.” For every deployed weapon, there will soon be four in the hedge, which means if 1,000 warheads are deployed, 4,000 will be available in a reserve capacity.
In order to determine if such a large hedge is necessary, we direct the JASON group of scientific advisers in the FY2014 Energy and Water bill to assess the need for such a large hedge.
The question we asked the JASON group is whether NNSA is holding onto more weapons than is really necessary. The result should clarify this debate once and for all.
This year, NNSA rolled out an ambitious new plan, known as “3+2,” a 25-year plan to reduce warhead types from seven to five.
While I support reductions to the stockpile and the savings that come with it, the 3+2 plan requires spending tens of billions of dollars more on life extension programs as well as increasing technical risks such as design changes. These costs all come with little benefit.
The promise of the 3+2 plan was to provide a smaller stockpile in exchange for a larger investment. However, when the plan is examined, there is no decrease in the number of warheads.
In addition, sequestration, shrinking budgets and NNSA’s long history of cost overruns and schedule delays raise serious concerns about NNSA’s ability to execute this mission.
For example, the current plan shows 5 out of 7 weapon systems, or 70% of the stockpile, undergoing a life-extension program or major repair, all at the same time. Each of these life extension programs will cost billions of dollars.
Even more worrisome is that NNSA has not executed even one life extension program on time and on budget. There is no reason to believe it can handle five at once.
Bottom line: Work on life extension programs could crowd out all other investments needed to assess the safety, security and reliability of the current stockpile and address aging infrastructure.
My most immediate concern is with the life extension of the B61 gravity bomb. I am concerned the B61 life-extension program is unaffordable at $10 billion and a more narrow scope of work would safely extend its life while meeting military requirements.
The administration has said it is serious about making “bold reductions” to our tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. That would mean reductions of the B61, since it is the only tactical nuclear weapon in Europe. There is a serious question as to whether the B61 is needed in Europe at all.
Further, one of the main justifications for consolidating the different variants of the B61 is to retire the B83—a megaton weapon. However, we have not seen an official document from the Nuclear Weapons Council that commits to retiring and dismantling the B83 in exchange for the refurbished B61. I’ll believe that when I see it.
Finally, I would like to highlight a worrying trend. Modernizing the nuclear weapons stockpile has come at the expense of nonproliferation activities.
Last week, NNSA removed the last remaining weapons-usable, highly enriched uranium from Hungary. Hungary is 12th country to have its highly enriched uranium removed since the president’s April 2009 Prague speech, which set a 4 year goal to remove the most vulnerable nuclear materials from around the world.
The cost of cleaning out these 12 countries was $320 million. That is less than funding a single year of the B61 life-extension program, but with far greater national security benefits and far greater cost-benefit.
The success of the program helped bring attention to the dangers of loose nuclear materials around the world and accelerated efforts to secure the material. The world is more secure because another 1,500 kilograms of fissile material no longer poses a threat.
However, more work remains.
More than 2,700 kilograms of highly enriched uranium is sitting in a handful of countries. 400 kilograms of plutonium, or about 50 weapons worth, remains at risk. And more than 100 reactors still need to be converted to low-enriched uranium.
Further, thousands of unused radiological sources in the United States are not secured and could be used for dirty bombs. Consider the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. What if the explosive devices had contained radioactive material stolen from a hospital?
I am very disappointed in the administration’s budget request. Rather than accelerate efforts to secure and remove these materials, the fiscal year 2014 budget request made significant cuts to nuclear and radiological non-proliferation programs, including $13 million in cuts to domestic radiological programs.
And, the budget request abandons the goal of securing 8,500 storage sites by 2025. Instead, it delays completion of these activities until 2044.
Given the low cost and high risks to national security, our committee restored this funding in the fiscal year 2014 budget.
In conclusion, let me say this: The Cold War is over and the superiority of U.S. conventional weapons is unquestioned. The risks of maintaining a large nuclear arsenal far outweigh the national security benefits. Large quantities of nuclear material continue to pose a proliferation risk as nonstate actors are still determined to acquire these materials for nuclear devices.
Since nuclear forces are larger than needed for current military missions, it is time to think more creatively about how to maintain a much smaller nuclear deterrent at an affordable cost.
I hope the panel today will help further that creative thinking.