Stockpile Stewardship Under the CTBT

The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992—a bipartisan policy maintained through four successive administrations. Since then, it has become clear that maintaining the reliability of proven U.S. nuclear warhead designs does not depend on nuclear test explosions.

The U.S. arsenal has been and will continue to be maintained without nuclear testing indefinitely through non-nuclear tests and evaluations, combined with the refurbishment of key components to previous design specifications. Since 1994, each warhead type in the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal has been determined to be safe and reliable through a rigorous certification process instituted following the end of U.S. nuclear testing.

According to a 2002 National Academies of Science (NAS) panel that included three former nuclear weapons lab directors, age-related defects mainly related to non-nuclear components can be expected, "but nuclear testing is not needed to discover these problems and is not likely to be needed to address them."

For more than fifteen years, a nationwide infrastructure of nuclear weapons research, evaluation and manufacturing sites and laboratories has been maintained through the Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP). Currently, the United States spends more than $7 billion annually on its Stockpile Stewardship Program, which includes nuclear weapons surveillance and maintenance, non-nuclear and subcritical nuclear experiments, sophisticated supercomputer modeling, and life-extension programs for the existing warhead types in the enduring U.S. nuclear stockpile.
 
Confidence in the ability to maintain U.S. warheads is increasing—not decreasing. A 2002 National Academy of Science (NAS) panel report found that the current Stockpile Stewardship Program provides the technical capabilities that are necessary to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear stockpile, "provided that adequate resources are made available...and are properly focused on this task." The newly updated 2012 NAS report on the CTBT reinforces this conclusion. The newly updated 2012 NAS report on the CTBT reinforces this conclusion.
 
The Obama administration’s unprecedented $88 billion, 10-year plan for upgrading the nuclear weapons complex should give senators greater confidence that there is a long-term strategy and more than enough funding to continue to maintain the U.S. arsenal effectively. The administration’s request of nearly $7.6 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) weapons activities for fiscal year 2013 is five percent higher than the $7.2 billion appropriated by Congress for fiscal year 2012.
 
As NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino recently told Arms Control Today, “[I]n my opinion, we have a safe and secure and reliable stockpile. There’s no need to conduct underground [nuclear] testing.”
 

In 2006 the Department of Energy announced that studies by Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories show that the plutonium primaries, or pits, of most U.S. nuclear weapons “will have minimum lifetimes of at last 85 years,” which is about twice as long as previous official estimates.

In their September 2009 report, the JASON independent technical review panel concluded that "lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence." These findings indicate that new-design replacement warheads are not needed to maintain reliability.

Senate approval of the CTBT would further help to strengthen bipartisan support for effective stockpile stewardship efforts to ensure that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. nuclear arsenal remains effective without nuclear testing and without the production of newly-designed warheads.
In the exceedingly unlikely event that the president of the United States decides to resume nuclear testing, the United States has the option of exercising the CTBT’s “supreme national interest” withdrawal clause.