Assess the Full Costs of Being a Nuclear State

From the Foundation's 1996 Annual Report

Citizens in the United States and other countries have permitted nuclear weapons development and the growth of nuclear arsenals in part because they have been uninformed or deliberately kept in the dark about the enormous costs of these programs. Throughout the Cold War, the public was deprived of essential information about atomic weapons. For decades, scientific data and government documents addressing nuclear weapons were classified; journalists were fed misleading information about nuclear accidents, safety violations, or environmental contamination within and around weapons facilities; and public relations campaigns were organized by nuclear weapons bureaucracies to allay the fears of concerned citizens. Today, nuclear weapon budgets remain high, and many nuclear weapon laboratories and facilities are still active.

The purpose of the foundation’s work in this area is not to assert or to prove that the costs of nuclear weapons outweigh their purported security benefits, but rather to provide information and promote a cost-benefit debate. An enlightened public discussion cannot occur without a more thorough accounting of the various expenses associated with nuclear weapons. Defining and highlighting these costs are the objectives of this initiative. What price has been paid for the development, testing, manufacture, deployment, and maintenance of nuclear weapons? What future expenses are to be incurred for continued nuclear weapons research and development, and for the clean-up, dismantlement, and closure of the nuclear weapon complex? For example, despite the end of the Cold War and the ban on nuclear weapons testing, the Department of Energy plans to spend a total of $20 billion over the next five years on new facilities and programs for nuclear weapon research, development and maintenance. This amount exceeds the annual level of Cold War spending on nuclear warhead research, development, testing and production. These and related issues are central to assessing the true cost of our nuclear enterprise.

Arriving at such a cost involves more than simply tabulating government expenditures and outlays for nuclear weapons projects and programs. Some nuclear weapon costs are not easily quantifiable—during the Cold War arms race, public health, safety, the environment, and the democratic "right-to-know" were often compromised in the name of national security. Therefore, this initiative concentrates heavily on exposing the sizable social and economic costs of acquiring and retaining nuclear weapons.
Return to Earth & W. Alton Jones Foundation