Monday 28 May 2007

Bush Administration Seeks Big $$$ For New Nuclear Weapons Complex

In the nearly two decades since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has not produced new H-bombs or felt the need to significantly modernize its nuclear arsenal. Now, the Bush administration is seeking funding for a major, costly ?upgrade? that would allow the U.S. to produce new nuclear weapons.
The administration argues the ?upgrade? is needed to make the U.S. more secure. But members of Congress from both major political parties have expressed skepticism about the need to enhance the U.S. nuclear arsenal and have questioned the $150 billion price tag. Stopping this proposal, called ?Complex 2030? for the date the upgrade would be completed, is a priority for FCNL?s legislative program in the 110th Congress.

The U.S. nuclear weapons complex is a network of facilities across the country that develop and maintain the United States? arsenal of nuclear weapons. The complex is administered by a semi-autonomous agency inside the Energy Department called the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Just maintaining the existing nuclear weapons complex currently costs taxpayers more than $6 billion a year.

The plan released by the NNSA this past fall calls for a complete overhaul of existing U.S. nuclear weapons facilities. Included in the proposal is the construction of a new nuclear bomb-making plant, which would give the U.S. a weapons production capability it has not had since the Rocky Flats plant in Colorado closed in 1989. If completed, the new bomb plant would annually produce 125 to 200 plutonium pits, the primary component of thermonuclear weapons.

For years since the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. arsenal of nearly 10,000 nuclear warheads has been viewed by the executive branch as ?reliable,? and large enough to protect the United States. (Indeed this arsenal is sufficient to kill everyone on the plant many times over.) Yet, Complex 2030 and the proposed bomb plant, for the first time in more than a decade, would result in a sharp increase in U.S. nuclear weapon production capacity. As NNSA administrator Thomas D?Agostino told a congressional committee in April 2006, Complex 2030 would return the U.S. to a ?level of capability comparable to what we had during the Cold War.?

A Program Without a Mission

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear weapons program has struggled to justify its existence. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently noted, ?the doctrine of mutual Soviet-American deterrence [has become] obsolete [and] reliance on nuclear weapons for this purpose is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.? In an op-ed published January 4 in the Wall Street Journal, Kissinger joined former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn in calling for universal nuclear disarmament.

But if nuclear weapons are not needed, funding for the nuclear weapons complex would be in jeopardy. This funding represents the paychecks of weapons scientists and bomb plant production employees working at eight primary facilities located in congressional districts across the country. Members of Congress from districts where these facilities are located recognize the economic impact to local communities, and they frequently advocate for increased funding for new nuclear weapons projects.

In some cases, support for the weapons complex becomes more a matter of turning on the Treasury spigot in members? districts rather than a serious congressional evaluation of the ?merits? of nuclear weapons. As Robert Civak, a former White House budget official in the first Bush and Clinton administrations, stated, ?The weapons labs are more interested in job security than national security.?

Stop Funding Before It Gains Momentum

Frequently, when a large new federal program such as Complex 2030 is proposed, the president?s initial request is only a small portion of the program?s overall cost. Subsequent budgets call for ever larger allocations. In the case of Complex 2030, the projected cost is expected to balloon from the president?s fiscal year 2008 request of $25 million for the design phase of the new bomb plant, to an eventual final cost of $150 billion when the program is complete.

Each subsequent annual funding allocation would take the United States one step further along on the path to completion and each step makes it harder to reject the whole project. We at FCNL believe this dangerous and ill-founded program should be stopped at the starting gate. Congress has the "power of the purse? and can defund this ambitious plan before it gains momentum.

During congressional hearings on the Complex 2030 plan this past March, members expressed doubt about the viability of and need for the new complex. Many members noted the lack of a coherent national nuclear weapons policy that would be a prerequisite for such a large expansion.

As Rep. Pete Visclosky (IN), the chair of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee stated, ?We are not going to begin building more nuclear bombs without a serious and open national debate on that policy question.?

other members question NNSA?s track record of project management and frequent budget overruns. Rep. David Hobson(OH), the ranking Republican on the same subcommittee noted, ?I discussed [with the Energy Department] the department?s bad habit of making very expensive commitments and then expecting Congress to fork over billions of dollars to pay the costs of these commitments, especially when they weren?t budgeted.?

Rep. Visclosky questioned how the U.S. could ask North Korea and India to stop developing nuclear weapons programs while the U.S. rebuilds its own arsenal. ?Given the United States? nuclear nonproliferation commitments around the world, our desire to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons in other countries, and the pressing need to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex within a believable period of time, I am disappointed that the Department of Energy and this administration has chosen to make [new nuclear weapons] its top priority,? Rep. Visclosky said.

For FCNL, these expressions of congressional caution are good news. But members of Congress still need to hear from their constituents and to be reminded by them of the unacceptable financial and moral costs of nuclear weapons.

FCNL Washington Newsletter

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