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The Cart before the Horse: DOE's Plan for the Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex

Over the next several years, the U.S. government must make critical decisions about the future of the nation's nuclear weapons complex—the industrial infrastructure to design, develop, build, and maintain the thousands of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal.

Specifically, the government must decide:

  • whether to increase the nation's capacity to build nuclear weapons;
  • whether to design, develop, and build new types of nuclear warheads;
  • how best to consolidate the fissile material essential to nuclear weapons, to increase security and reduce costs; and
  • how to maintain the existing nuclear arsenal without resuming nuclear testing.

These issues are coming to the fore because the Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed a plan to revitalize the nation's nuclear weapons complex, and because Congress has required the next president to undertake a Nuclear Posture Review to examine the purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons.

These decisions will also take place amid growing calls for the United States to spearhead a global effort to attain a world free of nuclear weapons.

UCS recommends that:

  • the United States needs a new nuclear weapons policy, and a plan for the future of its nuclear arsenal, before it makes major decisions on the future of the complex;
  • under its current policy, the United States does not need to produce new plutonium pits—the essential core of nuclear warheads—until at least 2015 and perhaps not until 2022. A new nuclear policy could eliminate the need entirely;
  • until the nation decides on the make-up and size of its future nuclear arsenal, it is premature to build proposed large industrial plants that would play a role in producing new nuclear weapons;
  • once a new nuclear policy is set, the DOE should perform a comprehensive, bottom-up review of the complex, and maintain only those programs and facilities needed to support the future arsenal; 
  • consolidating weapons-usable fissile material should be a higher priority for the DOE; and
  • the DOE should examine other alternatives for the future of the complex, including options for no pit production, and for a future in which the United States spearheads a global effort to move toward the prohibition of nuclear weapons.
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