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The Cost and Composition of America’s Nuclear Weapons Arsenal

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The American nuclear weapons arsenal is nowhere near its 1960s peak, but there are still thousands of warheads in the stockpile today.

The U.S. nuclear program is comprised of a complex network of facilities and weaponry, and of course the actual warheads themselves. Let’s look at the location of warheads, how they’re deployed, and the costs associated with running and refurbishing an aging nuclear program.

Let’s launch into the data.

Nuclear Weapons Map

As of 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense maintained an estimated stockpile of 3,800 nuclear warheads for delivery by more than 800 ballistic missiles and aircraft. Roughly 1,300 warheads are actually deployed, while most of the remaining inventory is either held in reserve (as a hedge against “technical or geopolitical surprises”) or is destined to be dismantled.

These weapons are thought to be stored across 11 U.S. states, with the vast majority residing in New Mexico, Washington, and Georgia.

us nuclear weapons location

Source

Over 1,500 of the warheads in New Mexico are retired and are destined to be dismantled at the Pantex facility in Texas.

The United States also maintains a small amount of nuclear inventory in and around Europe as well. Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base likely holds the biggest supply of warheads outside the U.S., and a few weapons are also located in storage vaults in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Deployment Data

Nuclear warheads, while devastatingly powerful, are nothing without a delivery mechanism. In simple terms, there are three primary methods for actually launching missiles: Silos, bombers, and submarines.

us nuclear weapons strategic deployment

The most common deployment of nuclear weapons is under the sea. The U.S. Navy is thought to operate 14 ballistic missile submarines, with each carrying as many as 24 Trident II missiles.

Missile silos are not as popular as they once were, but the U.S. Air Force still maintains 400 silo-based missiles, and another 50 are kept “warm” in the event of an emergency.

America’s Nuclear Weapons Budget

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is required to project the 10-year costs of nuclear forces every two years.

Though much of the program is shrouded in secrecy, the budget below provides an overview of the costs of running America’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

America's nuclear warhead arsenal budget

Costs in the budget are split between the Department of Energy (DoE) and the Department of Defense (DoD), which handle different parts of the process.

On one hand, the DoD takes care of the delivery systems for warheads. Those submarines, bombers, and missile silos spread around the country will add up to a projected $249 billion in costs over the next decade. Another large portion of the DoD budget accounts for operational aspects of the program, such as funding facilities, control, and early warning systems.

On the other hand, the DoE is responsible for building and maintaining the actual warheads themselves. The U.S. stopped producing new warheads in the 1990s, but all that changed last year.

Back in the Bomb Business

Generally, we think of nuclear weapons stockpiles as a sunsetting resource, slowly being dismantled; however, since the treaty that ended the arms race collapsed in mid-2019, the flood gates may be opening once again.

New warheads are reportedly rolling off the production line, and in the beginning of this year, Lockheed Martin was tapped by the U.S. Navy to manufacture low yield submarine-based nuclear missiles.

The development of lower yield nuclear weapons appears to be a response to efforts by Russia to modernize their arsenal.

Recent Russian statements […] appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first-use of nuclear weapons.

– Nuclear Posture Review (2018)

With this new weapons development, the U.S. is aiming to create “tailored response options” to any potential conflict. By eliminating the perceived advantages that adversaries may have, the U.S. is hoping to lower the likelihood of a nuclear conflict.

Arms control advocates warn that new lower-yield warheads entering production will lower the threshold for a nuclear conflict.

While advocates and critics of nuclear weapons debate the merits of new weapons, we appear to be entering a new era of weapons proliferation.

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Energy

Mapped: The World’s Nuclear Reactor Landscape

Which countries are turning to nuclear energy, and which are turning away? Mapping and breaking down the world’s nuclear reactor landscape.

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The World’s Changing Nuclear Reactor Landscape

View a more detailed version of the above map by clicking here

Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl, many nations reiterated their intent to wean off the energy source.

However, this sentiment is anything but universal—in many other regions of the world, nuclear power is still ramping up, and it’s expected to be a key energy source for decades to come.

Using data from the Power Reactor Information System, maintained by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the map above gives a comprehensive look at where nuclear reactors are subsiding, and where future capacity will reside.

Increasing Global Nuclear Use

Despite a dip in total capacity and active reactors last year, nuclear power still generated around 10% of the world’s electricity in 2019.

Global Nuclear Reactors and Electrical Capacity

Part of the increased capacity came as Japan restarted some plants and European countries looked to replace aging reactors. But most of the growth is driven by new reactors coming online in Asia and the Middle East.

China is soon to have more than 50 nuclear reactors, while India is set to become a top-ten producer once construction on new reactors is complete.

Asia's Growing Nuclear Footprint

Decreasing Use in Western Europe and North America

The slight downtrend from 450 operating reactors in 2018 to 443 in 2019 was the result of continued shutdowns in Europe and North America. Home to the majority of the world’s reactors, the two continents also have the oldest reactors, with many being retired.

At the same time, European countries are leading the charge in reducing dependency on the energy source. Germany has pledged to close all nuclear plants by 2022, and Italy has already become the first country to completely shut down their plants.

Despite leading in shutdowns, Europe still emerges as the most nuclear-reliant region for a majority of electricity production and consumption.

world-nuclear-landscape-supplemental-3

In addition, some countries are starting to reassess nuclear energy as a means of fighting climate change. Reactors don’t produce greenhouse gases during operation, and are more efficient (and safer) than wind and solar per unit of electricity.

Facing steep emission reduction requirements, a variety of countries are looking to expand nuclear capacity or to begin planning for their first reactors.

A New Generation of Nuclear Reactors?

For those parties interested in the benefits of nuclear power, past accidents have also led towards a push for innovation in the field. That includes studies of miniature nuclear reactors that are easier to manage, as well as full-size reactors with robust redundancy measures that won’t physically melt down.

Additionally, some reactors are being designed with the intention of utilizing accumulated nuclear waste—a byproduct of nuclear energy and weapon production that often had to be stored indefinitely—as a fuel source.

With some regions aiming to reduce reliance on nuclear power, and others starting to embrace it, the landscape is certain to change.

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Politics

How Much Do Countries Spend on Healthcare Compared to the Military?

Every year, governments spend trillions on healthcare and defense. But how much is spent per person, and how does this compare by country?

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Healthcare vs. Military Spending, by Country

Keeping citizens both healthy and secure are key priorities for many national governments around the world—but ultimately, decisions must be made on how tax dollars are spent to accomplish these objectives, and funding must fall into one bucket or another.

This infographic from PixlParade examines how much 46 different countries put towards healthcare and military spending in 2018, per capita.

Head to Head: Healthcare versus Military

Data for government and compulsory healthcare spending comes from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Note that these figures do not include spending through private insurance or out-of-pocket expenses.

Meanwhile, the data for military spending comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

CountryHealth spending (Per capita, 2018 US$)Military spending (Per capita, 2018 US$)
U.S.$9,008.77$2,086.50
Norway$5,361.00$1,323.90
Germany$5,262.83$559.50
Switzerland$4,687.26$546.00
Sweden$4,623.68$574.90
Netherlands$4,461.30$651.50
Denmark$4,441.07$792.50
Luxembourg$4,385.66$650.80
France$4,310.55$791.00
Austria$4,137.25$381.00
Belgium$3,868.82$421.60
Japan$3,787.74$366.50
Canada$3,719.86$613.10
Ireland$3,629.43$229.80
UK$3,336.55$743.10
Finland$3,331.65$680.30
Australia$3,311.33$1,078.00
NZ$3,188.39$532.30
Czhechia$2,632.67$254.10
Italy$2,574.96$458.70
Malta$2,448.73$152.20
Spain$2,414.69$381.70
Slovenia$2,227.77$254.80
Portugal$1,906.23$431.00
South Korea$1,848.76$841.70
Israel$1,828.40$2,357.50
Estonia$1,744.57$458.60
Lithuania$1,599.15$377.10
Croatia$1,553.67$232.50
Poland$1,511.18$317.50
Hungary$1,493.01$184.60
Romania$1,344.34$223.50
Greece$1,331.19$547.10
Chile$1,282.59$296.10
Latvia$1,111.67$375.20
Cyprus$1,103.03$374.30
Bulgaria$1,042.85$136.30
Turkey$946.83$238.60
Russia$873.00$421.20
Colombia$864.16$204.10
Mexico$582.05$46.30
Brazil$388.98$134.50
South Africa$267.85$63.50
China$249.83$177.60
Indonesia$55.62$28.20
India$18.80$49.00
Source: OECDSource: SIPRI

Note: There are minor discrepancies in comparing table data to original sources due to recent estimate updates. Figures for Brazil, South Africa, China, Indonesia, and India come from the World Bank (2017).

The Top 10 Healthcare Spenders

The U.S. leads the world in government healthcare spending at $9,008 per capita – over 1.5 times that of Norway, the next-highest country examined.

CountryPer capita health spending% of GDP% of health spending
U.S.$9,008.7714.3%84.7%
Norway$5,361.008.6%85.3%
Germany$5,262.839.7%84.6%
Switzerland$4,687.267.6%64.4%
Sweden$4,623.689.3%85.1%
Netherlands$4,461.308.2%82.1%
Denmark$4,441.078.5%83.9%
Luxembourg$4,385.664.4%84.1%
France$4,310.559.4%83.6%
Austria$4,137.257.7%74.7%

While per-capita government spending on healthcare in the U.S. is the highest in the world, this has not necessarily brought about better outcomes (such as longer life expectancy) compared to other developed nations.

It’s also worth mentioning that the above figures do not cover all healthcare costs incurred by citizens, as they do not account for private insurance spending or out-of-pocket expenses. According to OECD data, these additional costs tend to be the highest in places like Switzerland and the United States.

The Top 10 Military Spenders

Israel has the highest rate of military spending per capita, and has the distinction of being the only country on this list to invest more in defense than in healthcare.

CountryPer capita military spending% of GDPTotal expenditure, US$M
Israel$2,357.505.3%$19,759M
U.S.$2,086.50 3.3%$682,491M
Norway$1,323.90 1.6%$7,067M
Australia$1,078.00 1.9%$26,840M
South Korea$841.70 2.5%$43,070M
Denmark$792.50 1.3%$4,559M
France$791.00 1.3%$51,410M
UK$743.101.8%$49,892M
Finland$680.30 1.4%$3,757M
Netherlands$651.501.2%$11,115M

Although the United States comes in second place here as well, in absolute terms, the U.S. puts more money into military expenditures than many other countries combined, at almost $700 billion per year.

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