The Obama administration's plan for maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal will likely cost around 66 percent more over the next decade than senior Pentagon officials have predicted, according to a new assessment by the independent Congressional Budget Office.
Under the administration’s plan, operating, maintaining and upgrading the nuclear stockpile will cost a total of $355 billion from 2014 through 2023, said the CBO report, published just before the holidays and shortly after Congress finished action on a 2014 budget bill that restored some planned Pentagon spending cuts.
James Miller, the Pentagon’s outgoing policy chief, had said in 2011 congressional testimony that the 10-year tab would be around $214 billion, or an average of $21 billion a year, an amount he pegged at around 3 percent of the Pentagon’s likely overall budget for that period.
His boss at the time, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, cited an even lower yearly total when he told a security conference in Colorado last summer that nuclear weapons are “just not that expensive.”
Carter’s remarks ignited substantial controversy, including criticism from anti-nuclear activists as well as challenges from military budget experts. The squabble stemmed in part from the fact that the federal budget has no consolidated nuclear weapons spending category, and instead lists discrete tallies for related programs in the energy and defense departments.
Congress requested the budget office report to help settle the squabble, and the office’s analysts began by hunting down all the discrete listings. They also projected spending into the future, using Pentagon estimates wherever possible, and studied historical cost growth data to predict how much the total spending might grow beyond current estimates.
The $355 billion estimate is thus based not only on a higher calculation of what the government is spending now but also on a projection that unforeseen technical problems or mismanagement will cause costs to grow by an extra $59 billion.
The $355 billion tally, moreover, still does not reflect the full panoply of costs associated with having a robust nuclear arsenal, according to the CBO. It projected that “other nuclear-related costs” — a category not mentioned by Pentagon officials that includes environmental cleanup efforts, arms control-related work, and a system of defenses against nuclear attack — will likely cost the government an additional $215 billion over the next decade.