Nonpartisan budget report says future nuke costs are rising


WASHINGTON — The projected cost of modernizing the U.S. nuclear force is escalating, including billions of dollars more to operate nuclear-armed submarines and to update Energy Department nuclear weapons laboratories and production facilities, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

Critics of nuclear modernization are likely to seize on the new figures to bolster their argument for more modest upgrades.

The nonpartisan CBO said Monday that operating and modernizing the nuclear force will cost $634 billion in the 2021-2030 period. That is an update to CBO’s previous estimate of $494 billion, which covered a different 10-year period — 2019 to 2028. Most of the $140 billion increase reflects the fact that the new estimate covers a different, more expensive period in the development and fielding of a new generation of nuclear weapons, as well as inflation.

The effort to modernize the nuclear force, which began under the Obama administration and was advanced by the Trump administration, is generally supported by Congress, although some lawmakers are critical of the enormous costs.

The extent of President Joe Biden’s commitment to the nuclear modernization project that began during his time as vice president may be reflected in the 2022 budget his administration is scheduled to send to the Congress on Friday.

Sen. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a longstanding critic of nuclear weapons modernization, said in a statement Monday that Biden has an opportunity to scale back the program and save billions.

“The United States can deter our adversaries and reassure our allies without making an insane investment in nuclear weapons overkill, including capabilities that may invite rather than prevent a nuclear exchange,” he said.

The new Congressional Budget Office estimate includes significantly higher costs for modernizing the Energy Department’s outdated laboratories and production plants, which are central to the broader plan for replacing current nuclear weapons and warheads. CBO projected a $23 billion increase in those costs for the eight-year period from 2021 to 2028.

Similarly, it projected a $15 billion increase in the cost of operating the current fleet of Ohio-class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines over the next eight years. It said this mainly reflects the Navy’s plan to operate some submarines longer than previously planned. Those submarines eventually will be replaced with a new fleet of Columbia-class vessels.

In addition to modernizing nuclear warheads, which is done under the purview of the Energy Department, the Defense Department is planning to replace each of the three “legs” of the nuclear triad — the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, the Air Force long-range nuclear bombers, and the Minuteman 3 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.

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