Biden’s Nuclear Posture Review Fuels the New Nuclear Arms Race

Santa Fe, NM– Today, the Biden Administration has released its long awaited unclassified Nuclear Posture Review. It headlines a “Comprehensive, balanced approach to defending vital national security interests and reducing nuclear dangers.” It also declares that “deterrence alone will not reduce nuclear dangers.”

“Deterrence” against others has always been the publicly sold rationale for the United States’ nuclear weapons stockpile. First, there is the inconvenient fact that the U.S. was the first and only to use nuclear weapons in war. But secondly, the United States and the USSR (now Russia) never possessed their huge stockpiles for the sole purpose of deterrence anyway. Instead, their nuclear weapons policies have always been a hybrid of deterrence and nuclear war fighting, which threatens global annihilation to this very day.

FULL PRESS RELEASE [PDF]

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Why Funding for the SLCM Nuclear Warhead Should Be Deleted

Introduction: In 1991, in response to the ongoing collapse of the Soviet Union, President George H. Bush ordered the withdrawal of all nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) from U.S. surface ships and submarines. In 2018 President Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review proposed to redeploy SLCMs on Virginia-class attack submarines, saying they would provide the United States with “a needed non-strategic regional presence” that would address “the increasing need for flexible and low-yield options.”1 Congress subsequently approved $15.2 million in FY 2022 funding for the Navy’s new cruise missile and nuclear warhead.

In March 2022 President Biden transmitted a new classified Nuclear Posture Review to Congress that reportedly canceled the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile. In parallel, his proposed FY 2023 budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has no funding for the SLCM nuclear warhead. This has prompted some congressional pushback, with one suggested compromise being continuing modest research funding. But as a Congressional Research Service analysis put it: “The Navy indicated that the program was “cost prohibitive and the acquisition schedule would have delivered capability late to need.” 

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The W93 Warhead and Other Future New-Design Nuclear Weapons: Funding and Schedules

The W93 warhead is a proposed new-design submarine-launched nuclear weapon for the Navy. Its need is not clear given that the Navy’s W76 warhead recently completed a major “Life Extension Program” that extended its service life by at least 30 years and increased its accuracy through a new arming, fuzing and firing set. The Navy’s other sublaunched warhead, the W88, is entering a major “Alteration” which will refresh its conventional high explosives and give it a new arming, fuzing and firing set (presumably increasing its accuracy as well).

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How are we Back Here…? Reflecting on the History of Nuclear Close Calls as Putin’s Threat Reignites Cold War Fears of Nuclear War

“Sadly, we are treading back through old historical patterns that we said that we would never permit to happen again,”

Fiona Hill, Former Senior Director for Europe and Russia at the United States National Security Council, in an interview with POLITICO, today, February 28, 2022: ‘Yes, He Would’: Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes

By

A nuclear “close call” is usually defined as an incident that could have led to at least one unintended, mistaken, or unauthorized nuclear detonation or missile launch.

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Current U.S. Nuclear Weapons Issues: New Year’s Update — January 15, 2022

U.S. nuclear weapons issues:

  • In anticipation of the NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference that was to start January 4 the P-5 (original nuclear weapons powers U.S., Russia, China, France and U.K.) came out with an unbelievable collective statement on how they are in compliance with the NPT Article VI mandate to disarm. Then the Review Conference was indefinitely postponed because of omicron.
  • Biden signed the FY 2022 Defense Authorization Act (DAA). Congress gave the Pentagon $24 billion more than Biden asked for. So much for ending endless wars. The DAA fully authorizes what the Biden Administration asked for National Nuclear Security Administration nuclear weapons programs, which increased Trump’s FY 2021 budget which saw a 25% from his FY 2002 budget. LANL is to get a cool billion in FY 2022 for expanded plutonium pit production alone.
  • Still no appropriations. Second Continuing Resolution (CR) runs out in February.
  • First anniversary of Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons January 22

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Current U.S. Nuclear Weapons Issues: Monthly Update — December 15, 2021

FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act: The Bad News.

As Politico put it:

PROGRESSIVES’ PENTAGON POUNDING: … progressives barely put their stamp on Pentagon policy this go-round. Bipartisan provisions requiring women to register for the draft, cracking down on Saudi Arabia and imposing sanctions on Russia were nixed; legislation repealing outdated Iraq war authorizations fell by the wayside; reforms to the military justice system and efforts to combat extremism in the ranks were pared back; and a proposal to give Washington, D.C., control of its National Guard was dropped,” they wrote. Democrats hold power in the House, Senate and White House for the first time in more than a decade, yet the high-profile defense bill got more GOP votes than from Biden’s own party. As progressive lawmakers made their dissatisfaction with the bill’s high price tag clear, centrist Democrats knew they needed Republican support to pass the House and Senate.”

Progressives truly felt they had a historic chance to turn their priorities into policy, but the realities of a 50-50 Senate with no filibuster made that near impossible. And with midterms next year, it’s likely they missed their best chance.

Nuclear weapons: Congress added $500 million to Biden’s request for NNSA Total Weapons Activities, which was essentially Trump’s request to begin with. Trump’s Sea-Launched Cruise Missile and B83 (1.2 megatons) service life program were kept. $1.72 billion request for “Plutonium Modernization” authorized.

  • However, the NDAA is authorization, not appropriations. The 2nd Continuing Resolution runs until February after which the appropriators will have to come up with something. There’s a chance that the Sea-Launched Cruise Missile and B83 sustainment program could be shot down. While those would be notable victories, they really only amount to damage control (i.e., rolling back two of Trump’s pet projects) as the $1.7 trillion modernization beast lumbers on.

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Current U.S. Nuclear Weapons Issues Updates — November 15, 2021

The current Continuing Resolution keeping the government running expires 12/3. Another Continuing Resolution is likely.

The Pentagon has released a major threat assessment of China at https://media.defense.gov/2021/Nov/03/2002885874/-1/-1/0/2021-CMPR-FINAL.PDF.

Under “Nuclear Capabilities” it concludes:

► Over the next decade, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] aims to modernize, diversify, and expand its nuclear forces.
► The PRC is investing in, and expanding, the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms and constructing the infrastructure necessary to support this major expansion of its nuclear forces.
► The PRC is also supporting this expansion by increasing its capacity to produce and separate plutonium by constructing fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities.
► The accelerating pace of the PRC’s nuclear expansion may enable the PRC to have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027. The PRC likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size the DoD projected in 2020.
► The PRC has possibly already established a nascent “nuclear triad” with the development of a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) and improvement of its ground and sea-based nuclear capabilities.
► New developments in 2020 further suggest that the PRC intends to increase the peacetime readiness of its nuclear forces by moving to a launch-on-warning (LOW) posture with an expanded silo-based force.

This is bound to have a major influence on Biden’s Nuclear Posture Review, to be released in early 2022. China’s expansion of its nuclear weapons capabilities, along with U.S. and Russian “modernization” programs, may also be big issues at the January 2022 NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference.

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Current U.S. Nuclear Weapons Issues Updates — October 15, 2021

Congress passed a continuing resolution that keeps the government running until December 3. It freezes funding at 2021 levels which at least prevents short-term budget increases for nuclear weapons modernization programs and has no “anomalies” (i.e. exceptions) for these programs. That said, Biden passed on most of Trump’s nuclear weapons excesses forward in his FY 2022 budget, so it’s not like it makes a whole lot of difference.

Mitch McConnell agreed to let the Democrats raise the national debt ceiling, thereby averting national and international economic disaster. How gracious of him.

Democrats and Republicans joined together to roll Biden on the money in the FY 2023 Defense Authorization Act for the entire military (including the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). These bipartisan porkmeisters added $23.9 billion for $768 billion in total defense spending. The new bogeyman China was repeatedly invoked as the rationale (in comparison China now spends around $250 billion annually on its military).
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Cleanup Funding Request at Los Alamos Would Be Needed Increase

DOE Environmental Management released the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) Congressional Budget Request and asked for a $107.5 million increase over last year for legacy cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The FY22 EM funding request for cleanup at LANL totaled $333.5 million, which was a record request for cleanup at the Lab.

The Budget Request gives lifecycle costs. LANL has spent $3.8 billion on cleanup from 1997 to 2020. The high estimate is $4.6 billion for FY21 to FY90. This gives a total lifecycle cost of $8.4 billion from 1997 through 2090. The assumption included with these estimates is that most of the waste will remain buried at LANL. This is the first time DOE has mentioned legacy cleanup lasting until 2090. Last year the completion date was given as 2036.

Is legacy cleanup completion being pushed back to prioritize pit production? If DOE starts spending more on cleanup like this year in the future, shouldn’t cleanup take less time? The numbers work out to DOE only spending an average of $50 million between now and 2090, so DOE must not have plans to spend $330 million annually through 2090.

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Modernization: The Mainspring of NNSA FY 2022 Budget Request in the Form of Ballooning SRS Pit Costs

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s detailed fiscal year 2022 budget request was (partially) unveiled last week on Friday, May 28, in the evening before a long holiday weekend. The Biden Administration’s total NNSA FY22 budget request is just under $20 billion, requesting of $15.48 billion for NNSA “Total Weapons Activities” and following suit with Trump’s excessive nuclear weapons budget of $15.35 billion that Congress appropriated for FY 2021.

Of particular note in the budget request is that it will cost more than double what the National Nuclear Security Administration had previously estimated for the total of DOE’s Plutonium Bomb Plant construction at Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The facility would be a converted production plant for the fabrication of plutonium “pits,” the triggers for nuclear warheads. The cost for the plant has ballooned from the previous estimate of $4.6 billion to a now staggering $11.1 billion. What’s more, the schedule for the facility’s initial operation has slipped up to five years. The plans for the SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant have already run far over budget and fallen behind schedule, and “these troubling and potentially debilitating developments foreshadow problems to come to the challenging pit-production project,” according to the public interest group Savannah River Site Watch.

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Virtual Advocacy for “Safety, Security, and Savings” at ANA DC Days:

May 26, 2021

Nuclear Watch New Mexico virtually visited Washington, DC this month to participate in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s “DC Days,” an annual event where organizations from across the nation, whose members are directly affected by nuclear weapons production and the incidental health and environmental consequences, make their voice heard to federal policy makers.

Nuclear Watch NM was focused on opposing new plutonium pit production at Savannah River Site and Los Alamos, pushing for safe and secure toxic cleanup and prioritizing public health while saving billions by terminating ill-conceived new nuclear weapons programs. View more information on these issues in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s new report, “Safety, Security, and Savings,” which describes in detail the foundation of our 2021 advocacy. The report includes a series of fact sheets and recommendations covering new warheads, bomb plants, nuclear waste, cleanup, and more.

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