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Nuclear Transparency

Dan Barrett
May 7, 2010

With the Obama Administration committing itself to greater international nuclear non-proliferation, Secretary of State Clinton spoke before the United Nations General Assembly releasing the exact number of US nuclear warheads - 5,113 - both in active service and storage. Citing a "goal of a safer world," Clinton wished to show other nations participating in the nuclear nonproliferation regime that the US is willing to prevent dangerous material getting into the wrong hands and to promote greater transparency of stockpiles for better understanding.

However, publishing the total number of warheads does not spell transparency for the American taxpayer. Much of the nuclear weapons budget lives in the dark. A Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study postulates that the US spends at least $52.8 billion per year. Around 55% ($29.1 billion) is dedicated to operation, upgrades, and sustaining the platform and approximately 15.8% ($8.3 billion) is spent on environmental and health costs. However, this is just an estimate as the total budget remains classified.

A total inventory of 5,113 nukes reflects a 17,104 reduction since 1991 – a 90% drop. According to a Brookings Institution fact sheet, the US spent an average of $70,000 in 1998 (around $97,000 in 2010 dollars) on dismantling one nuclear warhead. Taking the 17,000 warheads decommissioned in today's dollars, the US has spent at least $1.66 billion since the end of the Cold War. Unless more budgetary disclosures occur, both deficit hawks and disarmament proponents suffer from a lack of accurate information from an administration claiming its transparency.


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