"I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them."

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Vice-President Biden Pledges Support for Stockpile Stewardship to Further Obama's Nuclear Security Agenda

Arms Control NOW

In today's edition of The Wall Street Journal, Vice-president Biden pens an op-ed entitled, "The President's Nuclear Vision," stating that the administration's fiscal year 2011 budget request to Congress will propose a $600 million increase in the National Nuclear Security Administration's nonproliferation and stockpile management programs budget (about 10% above current levels) and will seek an increase of approximately $5 billion over the next 5 years.

He writes in part: "Our budget request is just one of several closely related and equally important initiatives giving life to the president's Prague agenda. Others include completing the New START agreement with Russia, releasing the Nuclear Posture Review on March 1, holding the Nuclear Security Summit in April, and pursuing ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."

What does it mean? ACA's interpretation is that the Obama administration's plan to increase long-term funding for the nuclear stockpile management program further underscores the fact that the United States can continue maintain a reliable arsenal without resuming nuclear testing or building newly-designed nuclear warheads.

Contrary to myth, the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not "degrading." In fact, a major effort to refurbish warheads and modernize the weapons complex has been underway for some time. Even without this additional funding, confidence in the ability to maintain U.S. warheads in the absence of nuclear test explosions has been increasing. Recall that:

  • Department of Energy studies completed in 2006 indicate that plutonium is not affected by aging for more than 85 years;
  • The JASON independent technical review group concluded last September that "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence." These findings indicate that new-design replacement warheads are not needed to maintain reliability.
  • A 2002 National Academy of Science panel, which included three former nuclear weapons lab directors, found that the current Stockpile Stewardship Program provides the technical capabilities that are necessary to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear stockpile, "provided that adequate resources are made available...and are properly focused on this task."

Unfortunately, the administration's budget request will likely include funding for an unnecessary expansion of production capacity at a new Los Alamos plutonium lab and a new uranium facility at Oak Ridge. Ideally, the administration and Congress will focus the nuclear weapons laboratories' resources on core stockpile surveillance and maintenance tasks, refrain from research and development on new-design warheads, and guard against unnecessary alterations to existing warheads that could undermine their reliability.

The bottom line is that there is no technical or military reason to resume U.S. nuclear weapons testing or to pursue new warhead designs. At the same time, it is in U.S. national security interests to do all we can to prevent others from conducting nuclear tests, which could allow them to perfect new and advanced nuclear warhead designs.