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Facts on the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Industry: Is Nuclear Waste and Dirty Bombs From Nuclear Power Plants a Major Problem?

September 19, 2010

In a day or so, I will post a discussion titled “The Straight Scoop on Nuclear Wastes.” This upcoming discussion will address many of the comments received from my precious posting “Is Thorium, the Norse God of Thunder, Our Energy Savior?: Obama Could Kill Fossil Fuels Overnight With a Nuclear Dash for Thorium.”

To the extent that these discussion are based on humanitarian rather than militaristic use of nuclear energy to generate electricity for the public and private sectors, it is important to put into perspective the state of the U.S. Nuclear Industry. The following information was extracted from The Brookings Institution’s 1998 report “The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project.”  The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project was completed in August 1998 and resulted in the book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 edited by Stephen I. Schwartz. These project pages should be considered historical.  Except where noted all figures are in constant 1996 dollars. U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project, .

50 Facts About U.S. Nuclear Weapons

1. Cost of the Manhattan Project (through August 1945): $20,000,000,000
SOURCES: Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr., The New World: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, Volume 1, 1939/1946 (Oak Ridge, Tennessee: U.S. AEC Technical Information Center, 1972), pp. 723-724; Condensed AEC Annual Financial Report, FY 1953 (in Fifteenth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission, January 1954, p. 73)

2. Total number of nuclear missiles built, 1951-present: 67,500
U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project

3. Estimated construction costs for more than 1,000 ICBM launch pads and silos, and support facilities, from 1957-1964: nearly $14,000,000,000
Maj. C.D. Hargreaves, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office (CEBMCO), “Introduction to the CEBMCO Historical Report and History of the Command Section, Pre-CEBMCO Thru December 1962,” p. 8; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office, “U.S. Air Force ICBM Construction Program,” undated chart (circa 1965)

4. Total number of nuclear bombers built, 1945-present: 4,680
U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project

5. Peak number of nuclear warheads and bombs in the stockpile/year: 32,193/1966
Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

6. Total number and types of nuclear warheads and bombs built, 1945-1990: more than 70,000/65 types
U.S. Department of Energy; Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

7. Number currently in the stockpile (2002): 10,600 (7,982 deployed, 2,700 hedge/contingency stockpile) , Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

8. Number of nuclear warheads requested by the Army in 1956 and 1957: 151,000
History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons, July 1945 Through September 1977, Prepared by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Atomic Energy), February 1978, p. 50 (formerly Top Secret)

9. Projected operational U.S. strategic nuclear warheads and bombs after full enactment of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in 2012: 1,700-2,200
U.S. Department of Defense; Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

10. Additional strategic and non-strategic warheads not limited by the treaty that the U.S. military wants to retain as a “hedge” against unforeseen future threats: 4,900
U..S. Department of Defense; Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

11. Largest and smallest nuclear bombs ever deployed: B17/B24 (~42,000 lbs., 10-15 megatons); W54 (51 lbs., .01 kilotons, .02 kilotons-1 kiloton)
Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

12. Peak number of operating domestic uranium mines (1955): 925
Nineteenth Semiannual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission, January 1956, p. 31

13. Fissile material produced: 104 metric tons of plutonium and 994 metric tons of highly-enriched
uranium , U.S. Department of Energy

14. Amount of plutonium still in weapons: 43 metric tons
Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

15. Number of thermometers which could be filled with mercury used to produce lithium-6 at the Oak Ridge Reservation: 11 billion, U.S. Department of Energy

16. Number of dismantled plutonium “pits” stored at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas: 12,067 (as of May 6, 1999), U.S. Department of Energy

17. States with the largest number of nuclear weapons (in 1999): New Mexico (2,450), Georgia (2,000), Washington (1,685), Nevada (1,350), and North Dakota (1,140)
William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Joshua Handler, Taking Stock: Worldwide Nuclear Deployments 1998 (Washington, D.C.: Natural Resources Defense Council, March 1998)

18. Total known land area occupied by U.S. nuclear weapons bases and facilities: 15,654 square miles
U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project

19. Total land area of the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey: 15,357 square miles
Rand McNally Road Atlas and Travel Guide, 1992

20. Legal fees paid by the Department of Energy to fight lawsuits from workers and private citizens concerning nuclear weapons production and testing activities, from October 1990 through March 1995: $97,000,000, U.S. Department of Energy

21. Money paid by the State Department to Japan following fallout from the 1954 “Bravo” test: $15,300,000
Barton C. Hacker, Elements of Controversy: The Atomic Energy Commission and Radiation Safety in Nuclear Weapons Testing, 1947 -1974, University of California Press, 1994, p. 158

22. Money and non-monetary compensation paid by the the United States to Marshallese Islanders since 1956 to redress damages from nuclear testing: at least $759,000,000, U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project

23. Money paid to U.S. citizens under the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act of 1990, as of January 13, 1998: approximately $225,000,000 (6,336 claims approved; 3,156 denied)
U.S. Department of Justice, Torts Branch, Civil Division

24. Total cost of the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion (ANP) program, 1946-1961: $7,000,000,000
“Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion Program,” Report of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, September 1959, pp. 11-12

25. Total number of nuclear-powered aircraft and airplane hangars built: 0 and 1
Ibid; “American Portrait: ANP,” WFAA-TV (Dallas), 1993. Between July 1955 and March 1957, a specially modified B-36 bomber made 47 flights with a three megawatt air-cooled operational test reactor (the reactor, however, did not power the plane).

26. Number of secret Presidential Emergency Facilities built for use during and after a nuclear war: more than 75
Bill Gulley with Mary Ellen Reese, Breaking Cover, Simon and Schuster, 1980, pp. 34- 36
27. Currency stored until 1988 by the Federal Reserve at its Mount Pony facility for use after a nuclear war: more than $2,000,000,000
Edward Zuckerman, The Day After World War III, The Viking Press, 1984, pp. 287-88

28. Amount of silver in tons once used at the Oak Ridge, TN, Y-12 Plant for electrical magnet coils: 14,700
Vincent C. Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the Bomb, U.S. Army Center for Military History, 1985, pp. 66-7

29. Total number of U.S. nuclear weapons tests, 1945-1992: 1,030 (1,125 nuclear devices detonated; 24 additional joint tests with Great Britain)
U.S. Department of Energy

30. First and last test: July 16, 1945 (“Trinity”) and September 23, 1992 (“Divider”)
U.S. Department of Energy

31. Estimated amount spent between October 1, 1992 and October 1, 1995 on nuclear testing activities: $1,200,000,000 (0 tests)
U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project

32. Cost of 1946 Operation Crossroads weapons tests (“Able” and “Baker”) at Bikini Atoll: $1,300,000,000
Weisgall, Operation Crossroads, pp. 294, 371

33. Largest U.S. explosion/date: 15 Megatons/March 1, 1954 (“Bravo”)
U.S. Department of Energy

34. Number of islands in Enewetak atoll vaporized
by the November 1, 1952 “Mike” H-bomb test: 1
Chuck Hansen, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History, Orion Books, 1988, pp. 58-59, 95

35. Number of nuclear tests in the Pacific: 106
Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

36. Number of U.S. nuclear tests in Nevada: 911
Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

37. Number of nuclear weapons tests in Alaska, Colorado, Mississippi and New Mexico: 10
Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook Project

38. Operational naval nuclear propulsion reactors vs. operational commercial power reactors (in 1999): 129 vs. 108
Adm. Bruce DeMars, Deputy Assistant Director for Naval Reactors, U.S. Navy; Nuclear Regulatory Commission

39. Number of attack (SSN) and ballistic missile (SSBN) submarines (2002): 53 SSNs and 18 SSBNs
Adm. Bruce DeMars, Deputy Assistant Director for Naval Reactors, U.S. Navy

40. Number of high level radioactive waste tanks in Washington, Idaho and South Carolina: 239
U.S. Department of Energy

41. Volume in cubic meters of radioactive waste resulting from weapons activities: 104,000,000
U.S. Department of Energy; Institute for Energy and Environmental Research

42. Number of designated targets for U.S. weapons in the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) in 1976, 1986, and 1995: 25,000 (1976), 16,000 (1986) and 2,500 (1995)
Bruce Blair, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution

43. Cost of January 17, 1966 nuclear weapons accident over Palomares, Spain (including two lost planes, an extended search and recovery effort, waste disposal in the U.S. and settlement claims): $182,000,000, Joint Committee on Atomic Energy Interoffice Memorandum, February 15, 1968; Center for Defense Information

44. Number of U.S. nuclear bombs lost in accidents and never recovered: 11
U.S. Department of Defense; Center for Defense Information; Greenpeace; “Lost Bombs,” Atwood-Keeney Productions, Inc., 1997

45. Number of Department of Energy federal employees (in 1996): 18,608
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Worker and Community Transition

46. Number of Department of Energy contractor employees (in 1996): 109,242
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Worker and Community Transition

47. Minimum number of classified pages estimated to be in the Department of Energy’s possession (1995): 280 million
A Review of the Department of Energy Classification Policy and Practice, Committee on Declassification of Information for the Department of Energy Environmental Remediation and Related Programs, National Research Council, 1995, pp. 7-8, 68.

48. Ballistic missile defense spending in 1965 vs. 1995: $2,200,000,000 vs. $2,600,000,000
U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project

49. Average cost per warhead to the U.S. to help Kazakhstan dismantle 104 SS-18 ICBMs carrying more than 1,000 warheads: $70,000
U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project; Arms Control Association

50. Estimated 1998 spending on all U.S. nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs: $35,100,000,000

In closing, my point is that sometimes we tend to “Maximize the Small” and “Minimize the Large.” This may be so, due to the common adage of “out of sight, out of mind.” Nuclear weapons, which are designed as weapons of mass destruction are not well publicized and in our presence on a day-to-day basis. We know they are there and live our lives accordingly. Without exception, nuclear weapons have two diametrically opposed purposes: 1) the fear of ending the world as we know it, or 2) ending the world as we know it. This is contrast to highly publicized nuclear-power, which is designed for our well-being. Nuclear power has three cohesive purposes: 1) generating relatively clean energy, 2) providing low cost energy, and 3) energy security in terms of using an abundant domestic resource base and reaping the benefits from all the attributes associated with it. If this was not so, would our navy continue to use nuclear powered ships and submarines, where to the best of our knowledge the U.S. has not experienced a major problem in several decades.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Clifford Goudey permalink
    September 20, 2010 7:00 AM


    One has to wonder if the ultimate outcome of all that spending could have been achieved by some other, less expensive means that did not come with the nagging risks. Say, bribing the soviet leaders into submission.

    You state, “nuclear weapons have two diametrically opposed purposes,” neglecting their tactical use on the battlefield. Since you include the Manhattan Project in your analysis, the purpose in WW2 needs to be included – shortening the war and reducing US casualties.

    As you proceed with this thread, I’ll be interested to see if you include at least a portion of these costs into the nuclear power equation.

    Finally, the “cohesive” reasons you cite for nuclear power are bogus. When did it suddenly become clean, low cost, and secure? And even if it were, none of these reasons explain the Navy’s use of it.

  2. Steve Ivy permalink
    September 20, 2010 11:41 PM


    Interesting side note on your points #24 and #25…

    Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion or ANP

    My reading of the history of LFTR (Liquid Florine Thorium Reactors) indicates that the only reason any were ever built was because a small group independent minded reactor design scientists in the early 1960s wanted to continue research into Thorium reactors after the promising results of research on them during the Manhattan project.

    You see they knew thorium would make a great thermal heat energy reactor (but make a poor reactor from the point of view of making bombs.)

    They wanted to make safer reactors that could not be used for a bomb, generally speaking the DOD did not care for the idea.

    Turns out the only way they could continue that research was to convince the DOD to pay for it somehow.

    Since thorium reactors had little utility to a military obsessed with making bombs, if those scientists wanted to keep researching on thorium for peaceful reactors then they needed to come up with a useful military strategic spin on the project.

    What they came up with was the idea for a “nuclear powered bomber” (ANP that is) and that idea managed to secure them funding for thorium experiments. Well it did at least until the military finally caught wind of what they were really up to and quickly killed the project (but not before they had already achieved just about 100% of their goals.)

    In 1969 after a brilliant team of engineers and scientists had succeeded in just about perfecting a safe clean proliferation resistant reactor design the DOD responded by shutting down the project, and then just sitting on the results for over 40 years.

    So while most of that list you presented seems to me to be a complete waste of time and money I do think there is a silver lining to the ANP project that needs to be considered (especially if we do end up using thorium reactors in the future.)

    If thorium does end up being our salvation then we certainly do owe those tricky scientists a debt of gratitude.

  3. J Kyle Casper permalink
    September 21, 2010 6:02 AM

    Hey Barry,

    Could you take a moment in your next post could you address the issues of the US purchasing nuclear waste from Russia to generate cheap electric power here. It seems to get packaged in a slick policy spin for non-proliferation- but could the real intention to the leverage economic downfall of the former Soviet Union to our advantage (that’s the polite way of putting it)

    Since 1994, the United States purchased Russian nuclear warheads to fuel U.S. nuclear reactors through a commercially financed partnership called “Megatons to Megawatts.”138 Acting as executive agent for Russia, Techsnabexport (TENEX) Inc. recycles Russian warheads by converting them into low enriched uranium (LEU) and then shipping the LEU to the United States.139 The executive agent for the U.S., USEC Inc., purchases the fuel, markets it to USEC’s utility customers, and sells TENEX an equal quantity of un-enriched uranium for use in Russia’s nuclear reactors.140 This program has eliminated over 20,000 nuclear warheads since its inception, and has provided electrical fuel for one in every ten American homes.141

    You see, if your a clever politician you could could even win the Nobel Peace Prize for re-branding an energy deal brokered in 1994.

    ps. How many US citizens know that 10% of their homes are powered by Russian nukes????

  4. pattieallbeef permalink
    September 21, 2010 3:46 PM

    To whom it may concern:

    I have a degree in Applied Physics concentration on Nuclear Engineering and Plasma Physics, University of Michigan 1991. It would seem a safer route if the global nuclear submarine forces were not tucked away mothballed but were put into operation under international supervision via UN or some NGO UN partner. This would keep them all in the public eye and not hidden away. The owner nations could lease them to the UN to recoup costs of design and ship building. They could be Retrofitted under the US Navy SubSafe specifications. Pull all the nuke weapons leaving a handful of anti ship missiles and torpedoes as a Piracy deterrent.

    Of weapons grade fissile isotopes – U 235 and Pu 239 are used. U238, non-fissile is converted to fissile Pu 239 by neutron capture and a nuclear reactor is the ideal place to convert non-fissile U238 to fissile Pu 239. So, with the decommissioned submarine reactor cores essentially residing in backyards; sooner or later someone might get the idea to start producing Pu 239 from one to make a few bucks. Having all that nuclear fuel and reactor core under international public scrutiny makes that worry one less thing to worry about….

    You have
    Global deployable platform with
    1. Electrical power generator
    2. Mechanical power generator
    3. Fresh Water source
    4. Medical Facilities
    5. Communications and Sensors
    6. Long range anti-pirate ship munitions
    7. With the SLBMs and ancillary hardware removed – room for disaster relief supplies not limited to food but including with proper design carrying capaity for gasses (Hydrogen, Natural Gasses), liquids (LNG, aviation fuel, biofuels), etc.
    8. Trained and operated by International crew who also function as UN inspectors, representing their nations.

    As a failsafe, attach electromagnets to the bottom superstructure exterior, power these by induction through the hull(s) from internal electrical power, hold a lead ballast contained in an iron mesh magnetically in place and on electric or mechanical failure the power to the magnets cut out and drops the ballast going to a positive buoyancy state so the disabled vehicle surfaces by default (like the Bathyscapes). As a redundand failsafe, The water ballast ‘tween hull space lined wih cannisters of Baking Soda in depth sensitive cans like depth charges except when crossing some safe operating depth the cannisters blow and surface the sub.

    Send these to disaster hit regions in need of emergency power and drinking water and medical facilities. Use them as pirate patrols and deterrents. A 600 foot long sub surfacing to block an Atlantic commecial vessel piracy act can be used with full duplex teleconferencing to hold a Maritime Trial on site. The protection to shipping might cover the cost alone. But use the extra space for R&D into renewable energy sources and conduct tests as part of a mission.

    Paint them yellow (aka the Beatles song) to show UN affiliation, peacekeeping vehicle.

    And this issue might get fixed a bit faster:

    Where a forward formation of ROV miniisubs with sonar can create a turbulent flow “funnel” to suck the oil/water mess into a pumpjet (modified) intake system feeding the equivalent of an off-shore floating refinery. And medical facilites for wildlife rescue.

    John Parker writes on p200 of “Illustrated World Guide to Submarines”

    “the large number of nuclear submariines around the world waiting patiently for the recycling experts to come along”

    Well, what is the world waiting for?

    mike fx303 lee
    415 248 6732

  5. December 8, 2010 2:59 AM

    awesome writing for this an excellent article a lot of people that write stories online don’t get completely credit and i would like to say thank you for your fine work. I adore the page layout as-well you really getting this site around. I have just tweeted this post. I was kinda looking for this for a while and i will tell my comrades about this blog the will beenticed by thanks

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