FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The US Government’s Nuclear Millstone

“While we are investing in areas that are critical to our future, we are also rooting out programs that aren’t needed and making hard choices to tighten our belt,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently declared, when the Obama administration rolled out its budget.

Hold on. If truth in labeling were enforced, this agency should be called the Department of Nuclear Weapons. More than 60 percent of funding for the Energy department goes to propping up an antiquated nuclear infrastructure, naval reactors, maintaining thousands of nuclear warheads and cleaning up the agency’s enormous environmental mess at its weapons sites in Washington, South Carolina and elsewhere. In fact, DOE spends more than 15 times on military nuclear activities than energy conservation.

Taking the perennial back seat are actual energy functions which make up less than 20 percent of the DOE’s budget. Within that small slice, nuclear energy gets the most — about a third of all energy research and development funds. Energy conservation, the one bright spot in this picture, gets about 23 percent. That’s not going to change if Congress accepts Obama’s budget plan, which would boost the department’s spending by about 4 percent from 2011. Solar, wind, geothermal, and other authentically “clean” alternative energy sources each less than 10 percent of DOE’s R&D funds.

Since its creation in 1977 by the Carter administration in response to a sharp rise in oil prices and supply disruptions, the Energy Department has done little to stem the country’s burgeoning energy problems.

With about 4.5 percent of the world’s population, the United States consumes more oil than any other nation and imports more than three-fifths of what it uses. As U.S. energy dependence has worsened, despite all the political instability and tyranny in many oil-rich nations, our greenhouse gas emissions have worsened as well. They’ve increased 17 percent since 1990 and are accelerating potentially disastrous climate disruptions.

Simply put, Obama can’t uphold Chu’s pledge to transform our energy future without completely overhauling the Energy Department.

Despite the rhetoric about reshaping America’s energy future, the department’s single largest expenditure ($7.6 billion) covers the maintenance of some 8,500 nuclear warheads. In seeking support for ratification of the recently enacted New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, Obama agreed to significantly increase funding to “modernize” our nuclear weapons stockpile and rebuild the nuclear weapons production complex. Specifically, annual nuclear weapons spending will rise between 2010 and 2015 by more than 18 percent, from $6.3 billion to $7.83 billion.

This is a down payment for the $167 billion the Energy Department plans to spend over the next 20 years. Even though the U.S. nuclear arsenal has been cut in half, and new weapons design and manufacture ended 20 years ago, spending on nuclear warheads has increased by more than 30 percent since the Cold War ended. And this doesn’t even include an additional $100 billion the Pentagon plans to spend on new deliver systems such as bombers, subs and ICBMs.

Nuclear warheads are proving to cost many more bucks for the bang. Between 2003 and 2016 DOE estimates that it will cost about $15 billion to extend warhead lives. For instance, based on DOE budgets, the per-unit life extension cost for hundreds of the B-61 warheads deployed on bombers appears to be as much as $11 million.

Even nuclear weapons fans might be dismayed to learn that we taxpayers are footing an ever-larger bill to maintain a nuclear arsenal of which only 30 percent is currently deployed. The military has discarded about 40 percent of these weapons, and we’ll scrap about another thousand as part of New START. The remaining 2,500 weapons in the “war reserve” are mainly for retaliatory strikes against population centers.

Despite President Barack Obama’s rhetoric about his aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons, he’s not making getting rid of our heap of defunct ones a big priority. Currently, warhead dismantlement has dwindled to the lowest level since the 1950s. According to the Energy Department’s budget request dismantlement funding will be cut by more than 50 percent over the next five years. That would leave our nation with a 15-20 year backlog of discarded nukes.

The Energy Department is being called on to usher in a new energy future for the United States, but isn’t equipped to meet that challenge.

The Obama administration should fundamentally restructure it, starting by jettisoning its nuclear weapons millstone, which should be the Pentagon’s job.

ROBERT ALVAREZ, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary from 1993 to 1999.

 

 

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail