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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

Study Challenges US Nuclear Costs

On 21 April, the Brookings Institution released a study - Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of US Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 - attempting to set out the true cost, ongoing and accumulated, of the US nuclear weapons programme. According to the study, edited and co-authored by Stephen Schwartz, spending on nuclear weapons and associated programmes during Fiscal Year 1998 will total $35.1 billion. In a 21 April statement, the Department of Defense (DoD) was quick to rebut this figure: "We estimate approximately $13 billion for our nuclear forces and this includes DOE [Department of Energy] costs."

The Brookings study breaks down its estimate as follows: $24.8 billion for the operation, maintenance and improvement of the stockpile; $5.9 billion for managing and decontaminating former weapons sites (including compensation payments to people affected by atmospheric testing); and $4.4 billion for research and development, missile defence programmes and arms control, non-proliferation and oversight costs.

Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the FY 98 nuclear weapons budget to be $20 billion. In a 18 March letter to Thomas Daschle (Democrat - Dakota), Senate Minority Leader, the CBO stated that, in its view, "other sums...might reasonably be attributed to nuclear forces - including efforts to reduce the threat from other nation's nuclear forces." According to CBO Director June O'Neill, if such factors were taken into account, the total FY 98 budget would rise to $33 billion. In total, according to the Brookings study, the US has spent over $4 trillion on nuclear weapons programmes since 1940.

Editor's note: more information about the Brookings study can be found at http://www.brook.edu

Report: Study - Pentagon underestimates nuclear cost, Reuters, 21 April.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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