Monday, May 3, 2010

U.S. Declassifies Nuclear Stockpile Details to Promote Transparency

The United States released newly declassified details about its nuclear stockpile today, including significant progress made in dismantling warheads, in an effort to promote transparency and help stem nuclear proliferation.

The United States had 5,113 warheads in its nuclear weapons stockpile as of Sept. 30, a senior defense official told reporters today on background.

That represents an 84 percent reduction from the end of fiscal 1967, when the U.S. nuclear arsenal was its largest, with 31,255 warheads, the official said. The current stockpile is 75 percent lower than when the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989, and the United States had 22,217 warheads.

The United States is making continued progress in dismantling nuclear warheads: with 8,748 dismantled between fiscal years 1994 and 2009 and several thousand more currently retired and awaiting dismantlement, the official noted. Meanwhile, the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal dropped about 90 percent from Sept. 30, 1991, to Sept. 30, 2009.

“For those who doubt that the United States will do its part on disarmament, this is our record, these are our commitments,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the U.N. conference on the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty today in New York. “And they send a clear, unmistakable message.”

A senior defense official expressed hope that it would set a standard for the rest of the world, including China, to be more transparent about their nuclear weapons programs.

Clinton said the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, once approved, will further limit the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed by both countries to levels not seen since the 1950s.


The U.S. nuclear stockpile includes both active and inactive warheads, defense officials explained. Active warheads include strategic and non-strategic weapons maintained in an operational, ready-for-use configuration, warheads that must be ready for possible deployment within a short timeframe, and logistics spares.

Inactive warheads are maintained in a non-operational status at depots, and have their tritium bottles removed.

The total disclosed by the Pentagon does not include the number of warheads that have been retired and scheduled for dismantlement, an estimated 4,600 according to the Federation of American Scientists nonprofit group.

Washington had previously disclosed its operationally deployed strategic warheads -- 1,968 at the end of 2009, down from about 10,000 in 1991 according to the State Department -- but it had not released the overall total.

The NPT is designed to halt the spread of atomic weapons and encourage the elimination of existing arsenals.

"It is hugely important for the United States to be able to say, 'look we are living up to our obligations under the NPT," said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.

Kristensen said the United States had to impress other nations that it is living up to its end of the NPT bargain or "it's going to be very hard to get them to agree to new measures to try to limit proliferation."

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