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$352 billion the minimum cost to fix up USA’s Los Alamos nuclear arsenal

A study this summer by the nonpartisan Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, estimated costs would be at least $352 billion over the coming decade to operate and modernize the current arsenal. Others say the figure could be far higher, particularly if the work is delayed even longer.

 Aging U.S. nuclear arsenal slated for costly and long-delayed modernization WP, By Dana Priest,   September 15 The U.S. nuclear arsenal, the most powerful but indiscriminate class of weapons ever created, is set to undergo the costliest overhaul in its history, even as the military faces spending cuts to its conventional arms programs at a time of fiscal crisis.

For two decades, U.S. administrations have confronted the decrepit, neglected state of the aging nuclear weapons complex. Yet officials have repeatedly put off sinking huge sums into projects that receive little public recognition, driving up the costs even further. Now, as the nation struggles to emerge from the worst recession of the postwar era and Congress faces an end-of-year deadline to avoid $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to the federal budget over 10 years, the Obama administration is overseeing the gargantuan task of modernizing the nuclear arsenal to keep it safe and reliable.

There is no official price tag for the effort to upgrade and maintain the 5,113 warheads in the inventory, to replace old delivery systems and to renovate the aging facilities where nuclear work is performed. A study this summer by the nonpartisan Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, estimated costs would be at least $352 billion over the coming decade to operate and modernize the current arsenal. Others say the figure could be far higher, particularly if the work is delayed even longer.

The timing does not fit with the nation’s evolving defense posture, either. Over the past decade, the U.S. military has moved away from nuclear deterrence and major military interventions in favor of more precise tactics rooted in Special Operations forces and quick tactical strikes deemed more effective against today’s enemies…..
The debate over the future of the nation’s nuclear arsenal is playing out in Congress and within the administration. Public reports, interviews with government officials and outside experts and visits to nuclear facilities rarely seen by outsiders provided a portrait of the scope and cost of maintaining and refurbishing the nuclear stockpile underlying the debate.

Expense has loomed for years

At the heart of the overhaul are the weapons themselves. Renovating nuclear bombs and missiles to keep them safe and ready for use will cost tens of billions of dollars. Upgrading just one of the seven types of weapons in the stockpile, the B61 bomb, is likely to cost $10 billion over five years, according to the Pentagon. The next two types of bombs in line for modification are estimated to cost a total of at least $5 billion. By comparison, the operating budget for Fairfax County government next year will cost about $3.5 billion, including its vaunted school system.

Replacing the aircraft, submarines and ground-launch systems that carry nuclear payloads will be the most expensive budget item. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost up to $110 billion to build 12 replacements for the aging Ohio-class submarines first launched in the 1980s. The Minuteman III ballistic missiles are undergoing a $7 billion upgrade even asnew generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles is under consideration. Meanwhile, a nuclear-capable fleet of F-35 strike aircraft is being built to replace existing aircraft at a cost of $162 million an airplane.  Finally, there are the buildings and laboratories where the refurbishment of weapons and development of new technologies take place. Modernizing those facilities is expected to cost at least $88 billion over 10 years, according to the NNSA, which is part of the Department of Energy.
…..  the Obama administration’s budget for refurbishing the nuclear stockpile went from $6.4 billion in 2010 to a $7.5 billion request for next year — a 17 percent increase at a time of budget constraints. To help pay the bills, this year the Defense Department agreed for the first time to contribute $8 billion over five years.

……While the administration was surprised by the state of the stockpile, the decision to spend heavily on modernization was also driven by a deal cut with Senate Republicans in late 2010. As part of negotiations to win ratification of the New START accord and reduce the nuclear weapons maintained by the United States and Russia, the administration agreed to increase money for modernizing the nuclear-weapons complex. Some Republicans say the administration isn’t spending enough. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-nuclear-arsenal-is-ready-for-overhaul/2012/09/15/428237de-f830-11e1-8253-3f495ae70650_story.html

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September 17, 2012 - Posted by | business and costs, USA, weapons and war

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