The report, released Oct. 7 by Ploughshares Fund, a group that advocates nuclear disarmament, says its estimate ranges from $620 billion, if defense spending stays below inflation, to as high as $661 billion if defense spending keeps pace with inflation.
A closer look at those numbers, though, shows that nuclear costing is more art than science, given factors like the secretive nature of the field, unknowable future costs in fuel or aircraft, and the budgetary whims of Congress.
Last year, the Washington Post fact-checker gave Ploughshares “two Pinnocchios” for estimating that nuclear weapons would cost the United States $700 billion over the coming decade, a figure some nuclear hawks rejected.
The new report acknowledges the difficulty in coming to a solid estimate. “It's not easy to know how much our nation pays for our nuclear weapons programs,” Ploughshares says, in this year’s release. “There is no official nuclear weapons budget. Instead, government spending accounts are often opaque, poorly defined and always spread out over several government agencies.”
The new estimate claims over the next decade the United States is looking at spending $370 billion for its “nuclear forces,” including the triad of long-range bombers, nuclear submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, in addition to the laboratories charged with maintaining weapons and dismantling them. A $100 billion tab will pay for associated environmental and health care costs; $97 billion for missile defenses against incoming nuclear warheads; $63 billion for nuclear threat reduction initiative programs to dismantle and mothball the shrinking Cold War arsenal; and $8 billion for nuclear “incident management.”
Ploughshares claims in this year’s materials that its estimate is “a conservative attempt” at combining the known costs to taxpayers for maintaining a nuclear arsenal that follows President Obama’s defense spending plan at near-flat real growth.
“Our estimate includes costs to maintain and modernize our existing nuclear arsenal, pay for missile defense programs, support the environmental and health costs associated with past and current nuclear weapons programs, and continue nuclear threat reduction programs.”
What the report cannot calculate, the group says, are intelligence costs and other operating costs, such as aerial refueling missions.
That, it argues, is why the U.S. needs more transparency.
The E-Ring will find out more on what the Pentagon thinks about it, later this week.
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