President Barack Obama and government watchdogs are going in opposite directions on the issue of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. As part of his new budget proposal, Obama is calling for an increase in spending to maintain and modernize the nuclear arsenal.
The 2016 fiscal year plan includes $8.85 billion for replacing aging warheads with new ones, which represents an 8% bump over the current spending on this program. The percentage increase is twice what the White House wants for the overall defense budget, which would go up 4% to $585.2 billion by next year.
But the $8.85 billion is just the tip of what Obama has called for to retool the nuclear stockpile of weapons and delivery vehicles, which include missiles, submarines and aircraft. The president has proposed spending $355 billion by 2024 on this endeavor.
The administration defended the spending. Frank Klotz, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration that runs the Department of Energy’s nuclear programs claimed the U.S. nuclear stockpile was the “smallest and oldest” it had been since the Cold War.
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has instead called for the government to take a serious look at downsizing its nuclear weapons complex. Pointing out that the nation’s system of laboratories and production facilities were first developed decades ago during the Cold War, POGO says it’s time for the Department of Energy, which oversees the process, to do what the Department of Defense did 20 years ago with its base closure and realignment commission in an effort reduce spending.
“A thorough and independent review of the nuclear labs, their missions, and their capabilities is long overdue,” POGO’s Lydia Dennett wrote, adding that “it’s time for real changes to be made, for real downsizing and consolidation to occur, and for the security of the nuclear weapons complex to come first.”
The security reference is in regards to the weak safeguards at some nuclear facilities, such as the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, where three peace activists in 2012 easily breached what was supposed to be a well-guarded perimeter and were able to reach a building that housed highly enriched uranium.