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April 12, 2010
Volume 88, Number 15
p. 8

New U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy

Arms Reduction: Administration pledges limits on numbers, use, construction of new weapons

Jeff Johnson

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Gates (right), and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a press conference on the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review on April 6 at the Pentagon. Newscom
Gates (right), and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a press conference on the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review on April 6 at the Pentagon.

The Administration announced last week that it would reduce the number of ready-to-launch nuclear weapons in the U.S. by 30% over the next seven years, limit the actions that could trigger a U.S. nuclear attack, and raise the threshold for construction or testing of new nuclear weapons.

The announcements were part of the 
April 6 release of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), an internal government assessment document outlining the nation’s nuclear weapons strategy, and the April 8 signing of the international Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The START agreement would cut deployed strategic nuclear weapons from 2,200 each for the U.S. and Russia to 1,550. It does not, however, address tactical nuclear weapons that number in the thousands, some of which are several times larger than those dropped by the U.S. in Japan during World War II.

When announcing the NPR, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stressed that the U.S. would maintain its stockpile of nuclear weapons by relying on reuse or refurbishment of existing components. Any actual replacement of nuclear components would require specific presidential approval.

Gates noted that refurbishment would require a “much-needed investment” in the Department of Energy’s weapons labs, and he promised to transfer some $5 billion from the Department of Defense budget to DOE for a modernization program.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu also underscored at the NPR’s release the need to modernize the labs, pointing to Obama’s budget, which proposes a 13.4% increase in weapons lab funding. He said the increase would lead to better weapons security and in the long term would allow the nation to reduce the stockpile of nondeployed warheads it keeps as a “technical hedge.”

Arms control organizations generally applauded the announcements, but many said they hoped for deeper cuts in light of Obama’s campaign pledge to pursue a world without nuclear weapons.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, an organization of groups located near the labs, noted that DOE’s nuclear weapons budget proposal is the largest ever and warned that it may encourage the U.S. to build new nuclear weapons in the future.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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