Reading Room

The Congressional Budget Office and the Nuclear Price Tag

Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Posted by Marylia Kelley

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released its cost estimate for upgrading the US nuclear weapons stockpile between 2017 and 2046. Did the CBO numbers match our non-governmental community’s trillion-dollar estimate? Not exactly.

According to CBO, the basic nuclear weapons “modernization” plan carried over from the Obama Administration will cost $1.2 billion in 2017 dollars.

Adjusted for inflation, the cost to taxpayers over thirty years will be around $1.7 trillion.

Notably, the $1.7 trillion estimate does not capture likely Pentagon and Energy Dept. overruns that will drive the final cost higher still. Nor does the $1.7 trillion include any of the novel programs that multiple sources say are under consideration in the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), due out early next year.

New projects being discussed for inclusion in the NPR include mini-nuke designs not currently in the stockpile, weapons types expressly prohibited by treaty, and underground nuclear yield tests in Nevada, which are being called “supercritical tests” by the weapons designers pushing for them.

The CBO report also looks at nine cost-saving options, including foregoing the Long-Range Stand Off warhead and cruise missile (save $30 billion), deploying fewer new subs (save $85 billion), and scrapping ICBMs (save $175 billion).

Here, the CBO analysis is very useful in refuting the narrative promoted by the Pentagon and weapons labs that every program on their wish lists is absolutely necessary. Clearly, there are choices to be made.

The CBO report stops short, however, of analyzing a “curatorship” option for the stockpile that would merely care for existing weapons until they are dismantled. Nor does it consider an option leading to nuclear disarmament before 2046. These options would enhance global security and save taxpayers billions more than anything the CBO considered.

Click here to view the full CBO report, “Approaches for Managing Costs of US Nuclear Forces 2017 to 2046.”