Category: nuclear weapons

The US Plans to Spend $1.2 Trillion on Nuclear Weapons Over the Next 30 Years

Nuclear Option

A new report released by the Congressional Budget Office claims the U.S. will need to spend a total of $1.2 trillion over the next three decades in order to properly maintain and modernize its nuclear arsenal. Two thirds of the nation’s nuclear weapons budget will be spent on the operation and maintenance of existing weaponry, while the remaining third will go toward modernizing the technology.

The Difference Between a Hydrogen Bomb and an Atom Bomb
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The report breaks down the $1.2 trillion cost, noting that $352 billion will be dedicated to the Department of Energy and $890 billion to the Department of Defense. $445 billion will be spent on factories, labs, and other infrastructure, while $25 billion will go toward delivery systems that facilitate short-range strikes.

$772 billion will be dedicated to operating and updating weaponry and long-range nuclear delivery systems, and of that, the CBO notes that $313 billion will be spent on nuclear submarines, $266 billion on bombers, $149 billion on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and $44 billion on other systems.

The report states that the nuclear weapons budget could be cut in half simply by sticking with the arsenal that’s currently in place. However, Defense News claims the Pentagon has rejected the idea repeatedly based on the belief that the U.S.’s existing weapons will only be effective deterrents for the next 20 years or so.

Big Spender

As for specific plans for this money, details on several contracts have been released in recent months that shed some light on the U.S.’s goals for its nuclear program.

The Minuteman III missile has long been a major component of the U.S. nuclear program, but it was introduced in the 1970s and is now beginning to show its age. In August 2017, the U.S. Air Force offered Boeing and Northrop Grumman contracts worth $349.2 million and $328.6 million, respectively, to continue their efforts to develop a successor to the Minuteman ground-based ICBM.

Ultimately, the program to replace the missiles could cost in excess of $100 billion.

Shortly after word of this research was made public, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin and Raytheon each a $900 million contract to fund the continued development of a nuclear-armed cruise missile known as the Long Range Stand Off (LRSO) weapon.

The appeal of the weapon is its ability to keep an older craft like a B-52H Stratofortress relevant despite a limited capacity for stealth. The B-2A Spirit and the upcoming B-21 Raider bomber will also be equipped with LRSOs once development is completed.

Some have questioned whether the $1.2 trillion nuclear weapons budget outlined in the CBO’s report is realistic.

Despite it only making up 6 percent of anticipated spending on national defense from now until 2046, Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, told Defense News he is concerned that such expenditure could come at the detriment of other national security programs.

“If the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review by the administration does not scale-back current nuclear weapons spending plans ― or worse, accelerates or expands upon them ― expenditures on nuclear weapons will threaten other high priority national security programs,” said Reif.

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International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Receives 2017 Nobel Peace Prize

Eliminating Nuclear Weapons

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Established in 2007, the organization works to ensure that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is observed and enforced.

ICAN is comprised of non-governmental groups from approximately a hundred countries. It has been deeply influential in convincing states to agree to the terms of the Humanitarian Pledge, which serves to promote the continued stigmatization and eventual elimination of nuclear weaponry. To date, 108 countries have committed to the pledge.

There are currently 15,000 known nuclear weapons scattered around the world. Some countries are in the process of modernizing their arsenal, while others are producing these weapons for the first time.

“The disarmament of nuclear weapons never goes out of date,” said ICAN’s executive director Beatrice Fihn in an interview with NBC News. “I do think that there is a popular belief among the people all over the world that the world has become more dangerous and that…the threat of nuclear conflict has come closer.”

Making a Stand

Even while honoring ICAN’s accomplishments, the committee responsible for handing out the prize made sure to reiterate that there is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to nuclear disarmament.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee is aware that an international legal prohibition will not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon, and that so far neither the states that already have nuclear weapons nor their closest allies support the nuclear weapon ban treaty,” read the press release announcing the winner of the 2017 prize. “The Committee wishes to emphasize that the next steps towards attaining a world free of nuclear weapons must involve the nuclear-armed states.”

The committee went on to express a desire for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to spur further action from states currently in possession of nuclear weapons.

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This Is What Nuclear Warfare Will Do To Our Planet

Growing Concerns

President Donald Trump’s recent comments directed at North Korea have us all wondering if we’re slowly building up to nuclear war. While politics occupies most of that discussion, it’s worth knowing exactly what nuclear warfare would do to our planet, from the horrific impact to the prolonged fallout and famine the aftermath brings.

As it stands, there are nearly 15,000 nukes spread across nine nations. They are: The United States, Russia, The United Kingdom, North Korea, France, China, Pakistan, India, and Israel. According to tables and graphs from Business Insider and the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Russia and the U.S. own a majority of the nukes available, and have also deployed the most throughout their respective histories—over 1,900 by Russia, and nearly 1,700 by the U.S. As for North Korea, it’s largely unknown how many nukes the country has, though The Washington Post reports the country may have around 60 nukes, and has managed to produce a miniaturized warhead capable of fitting inside of a missile.

Warfare 2040: The Future of Military Technology [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Tactically speaking, U.S. nuclear warheads are designed less for maximum yield than for incisive accuracy. This includes bombs like the B61-12, with a yield of 50 kilotons. That is equivalent to 50,000 tons of TNT. The most destructive American bomb in service since October 2011 is the B83, with a maximum yield of 1.2 megatons (1,200 kilotons). By contrast, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 15 kilotons.

The FAS notes that, while numbers for the U.S. are based on “real” numbers, the statistics for the rest of the world are not as accurate. Most information related to a nuclear weapons are a widely held secret, and as such, it becomes difficult to know specifics about a nation’s military power.

One Small Exchange

The very idea of nuclear warfare is worrying enough on its own, but it becomes more terrifying when you realize how little it takes to affect the entire world. A 2014 study published in an American Geophysical Union (AGU) journal reveals that it would only take a small conflict between India and Pakistan to cause near-irreparable levels global devastation.

“A limited, regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which each side detonates 50 15 kilotons (kt) weapons could produce about 5 teragrams (Tg) of black carbon (BC),” reads the journal. “This would self-loft to the stratosphere, where it would spread globally, producing a sudden drop in surface temperatures and intense heating of the stratosphere.”

Change in surface temperature (in Celsius) following the model nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Image Credit: Michael J. Mills

The Aftermath

In less than 10 years, our ozone layer would degrade by 20-50 percent, leaving us more vulnerable than ever to the Sun’s radiation; surface temperatures would drop to the coldest they’ve been in the last thousand years. The combined loss of the ozone and reduced temperatures would lead to a global nuclear famine.

It’s a horrific scenario to imagine, but there are a few things to keep in mind: The bombs used in the journal’s example are smaller than the nukes of today, and much less powerful. It’s also unlikely that any conflict involving nuclear weapons would employ maximum-yield warheads. Furthermore, the strength of North Korea’s arsenal is unknown to us, though The Washington Post story linked above says the country’s last recorded test was for a 20-30 kiloton nuke, which is less powerful that those stored by the U.S. and Russia. Regardless, the point of the AGU journal wasn’t to compare past powers to the present, but to shed some light on the damage such weapons can cause, no matter now many are used at once.

Of course, steps are being taken to prevent such conflict and their ramifications. Last month, the United Nations came together to announce a nuclear weapons ban, following discussions that included the possibility of global nuclear disarmament. 122 member states voted in favor of the negotiations, and of the nine nuclear powers, only North Korea passed on voting. The U.S., alongside Britain and France, however, took a stance to not sign the finalized treaty, arguing that security-of-state concerns necessitate a minimal stockpile for nuclear deterrence, an objection unaddressed by the ban.

These Are The Worst Nuclear Disasters in History (Infographic)
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Although the objection is understandable, many could argue that embracing the ban would lead to the lion’s share of nuclear countries eventually supporting the cause. It hasn’t been that long since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and if the last adjustment of the Doomsday Clock is a valid signifier, we need to take effective action soon, lest we go gentle into that good (mid)night.

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3,000 of the World’s Smartest Minds Have Come Together to Ban Nuclear Weapons

Vital Partners

Science and politics are irrevocably intertwined. From whether or not we should conduct research using embryonic stem cells to whether or not the nation should take action against climate change, science and politics are in an eternal dance.

Given that so many scientific conversations are becoming increasingly debated topics, such as climate change, the role of scientists in these debates cannot be overstated. Ultimately, while politicians can discuss how research should or should not be used, experts are the only individuals who truly have the qualifications to speak about what the research itself says. To put it simply, politicians need the expertise of scientists in order to do their jobs properly.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. We need scientists. Knowing the facts is the minimum we need for a sensible approach to negotiations. -David Donoghue

Monday, more than 3,480 scientists came together to meet this need and to support the United Nations’ nuclear ban negotiations. The individuals – who came from more than 80 countries and included 28 Nobel Laureates and a former US Secretary of Defense – signed a letter that was delivered to Her Excellency Ms. Elayne Whyte Gómez from Costa Rica, who is presiding over the negotiations.

The goal was to urge the UN to stigmatize nuclear weapons like biological and chemical weapons, with the ultimate mission being to create a “world free of these weapons of mass destruction.” The United States and a number of other nations that actually have nuclear weapons boycotted the talks, saying that “the time was not right and that a ban would be ineffective.

That said, the talks are supported by 120 nations.

At an event held yesterday at the U.N., Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, David Donoghue, noted that these exchanges between scientists and diplomats are incredibly important:

Reading the [letter] left no one in doubt about the unimaginable damage that would be done to human health, to animal health, and to the health of the planet if nuclear weapons were to explode. We see the scientific community as vital partners in what we are doing.

Future of Life

Beyond ‘Rock-Solid’ Deterrence

Despite the Pentagon’s assertion that a few hundred nuclear weapons would suffice for “rock-solid deterrence,” the United States and Russia are in possession of a combined 14,000. As the Future of Life Institute notes, many of these are on “hair-trigger alert and ready to be launched on a minute’s notice.”

In 2011, global annual expenditures on nuclear weapons were estimated to be $105 billion – or $12 million an hour.  Many scientists believe these funds should be redirected toward meeting human needs. For example, official development assistance – the money given by developed nations to developing nations – totaled $128.7 billion in 2010. Current nuclear weapons spending is equal to 80% of this sum.

Physicist Freeman Dyson, who is credited with conceiving of what is known as the “Dyson Sphere,” is one of the many notable scientists who signed the Future of Life’s letter supporting the stigmatization of nuclear weapons.

He explains, “scientists are supposed to be interested in bombs because we learned how to make bombs. I don’t think that that’s the main qualification for scientists to be concerned now.” He continued by noting that scientists’ familiarity with collaboration puts them in a unique position to negotiate and support talks, “We are running an operation that works, and we are accustomed to working as friends with people all over the world in all kinds of countries with all kinds of religions and political systems. That’s why we are useful in dealing with problems of weapons.”

Freeman Dyson On Nuclear Weapons: “We Don’t Need Those Damn Things”
Freeman Dyson. Credit: Futurism

Although he doesn’t believe the UN will decide anything during these specific talks, he notes that the important thing is starting conversations and taking a stand, “somebody’s going to take a big step then the rest of the world will follow.”

The first step, of course, is bringing people together who have the opportunity to influence people or governments on a larger scale. Dyson believes that eradicating nuclear weapons will be easy—or at least, much easier—once those in power come together and stand their ground: “I think that it will be, of course, an easy thing to do once you’ve made up your mind. It turned out the important step is to say ‘we don’t need those damn things,’ and actually, you don’t.”

We don’t need those damn things.

But what about once we do ban nuclear weapons? How do we verify that they really are gone? Experts, says Dyson, work out elaborate systems to verify that there aren’t nukes “lying around” (through the detection of radioactive particles, for example), but he doesn’t believe those verification systems are necessary. In fact, in the case of biological weapons, a good verification system doesn’t exist. To Dyson, the verification isn’t important or necessary.

“You won’t get rid of them all together right away,” he notes, “but it’s important countries announce publicly to get rid of them. That’s already a big step….you want big steps, and not small steps.”

Note: This interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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The U.N. Is Currently Meeting To Negotiate A Complete, Global Ban on Nuclear Weapons

Today, delegates from most of the United Nations member states are gathering in New York to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban. More than 2,500 scientists from 70 countries have signed an open letter in support of the nuclear disarmament negotiations. If successful, their words could urge the UN to stigmatize nuclear weapons like biological and chemical weapons, with the ultimate goal being to create a “world free of these weapons of mass destruction.”

Neuroscience professor and Nobel Laureate, Edvard Moser, believes nuclear weapons represent one of the biggest threats to our civilization:

With the unpredictability of the current world situation, it is more important than ever to get negotiations about a ban on nuclear weapons on track, and to make these negotiations a truly global effort.”

Other notable scientists in support of the ban are not lacking. The list includes 28 Nobel Laureates—such as Peter Ware Higgs and Leon N. Cooper; former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William J. Perry; and CERN physicists, such as Jack Steinberger. The letter will be delivered in the UN General Assembly Hall to Her Excellency Ms. Elayne Whyte Gómez from Costa Rica, who will preside over the negotiations.

The letter, presented by the Future of Life Institute, acknowledges that scientists may have been the ones who invented nuclear weapons, but that it is up to the people living today to dictate how this technology should be used—or rather, should never be used. For example, nuclear-induced winter could trigger a global mini ice age, which could lead to a complete collapse of the global food system and kill most of the people on Earth.

And that’s just one potential outcome.

Ultimately, such a result would occur even if the nuclear war involved only a small fraction of the roughly 14,000 nuclear weapons that today’s nuclear powers control.

In total, nine countries (that we know of) possess nuclear weapons: The U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, China, Israel, India, North Korea, and Pakistan. The first five are the only countries allowed to have these weapons, according to the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, an agreement that nations signed saying they would not release nuclear weapons, or in any way help others acquire or build them. Furthermore, the countries promised, “to move toward a gradual reduction of their arsenals of nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of complete nuclear disarmament.”

The latter four nations (Israel, India, North Korea, and Pakistan) haven’t yet signed the treaty.

Unfortunately, the United States and a number of other nations that actually have nuclear weapons boycotted the talks, saying that “the time was not right and that a ban would be ineffective.” Ambassador Nikki R. Haley, from the United States, told reporters outside the General Assembly that the ideals are currently just a utopian dream: “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the state supported nuclear talks, in general, “We are ready to discuss the possible further gradual reduction of nuclear capabilities.” However, he said that Russia was not in support of talks of this severity or gravity. “We are ready to discuss this issue proceeding from the growing urgency of making this process multilateral,” he noted, adding the criticism that the discussion was too far-reaching: “Efforts to coerce nuclear powers to abandon nuclear weapons have intensified significantly recently. It is absolutely clear that the time has not yet come for that,”

That said, the talks are supported by 120 nations.

A Bomb of Unprecedented Power

In 1939, just after World War II broke out, physicist Albert Einstein and his colleague Leo Szilard described a “bomb of unprecedented power” that could be made using nuclear fission. The two men urged the U.S. government to race to build this so-called “atomic bomb” before Germany could.

These Are The Worst Nuclear Disasters in History (Infographic)
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Six years later, President Harry S. Truman would order atomic bombs to be dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just five years after that, 54 percent of the original population had died from the two explosions. Those who survived had to deal with mental and physical trauma including burns, disfiguration, severe scar formations, blood abnormalities, sterility, leukemia, birth defects in children, cataracts, and cancer.

Scientists Urge the United Nations to Ban Nuclear Arms
Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right). Wikimedia

Einstein would later regret his involvement in the creation of the bomb, saying: “had I known that the Germans would not succeed in producing an atomic bomb, I would have never lifted a finger.”

But it was too late for Einstein. And our nuclear history didn’t end with him. Today, as political tensions rise, the scientists who have signed in support of the ban believe a nuclear war is more likely than one may expect:

There is a steady stream of accidents and false alarms that could trigger all-out war, and relying on never-ending luck is not a sustainable strategy. Many nuclear powers have larger nuclear arsenals than needed for deterrence, yet prioritize making them more lethal over reducing them and the risk that they get used.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry even noted, “the probability of a nuclear calamity is higher today, I believe, that it was during the cold war.”

It is evident that the scientific community, as a whole, feels strongly about the issue at hand, and believes the issue deserves a certain level of urgency. Negotiations are sure to be heated, but, as Norwegian neuroscience professor May-Britt Moser, a 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, says, “In a world with increased aggression and decreasing diplomacy – the availability nuclear weapons is more dangerous than ever. Politicians are urged to ban nuclear weapons. The world today and future generations depend on that decision.”

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The Doomsday Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight

Doomsday_Clock

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