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The Midas Touch of Nuclear Weapons

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The United States is about to buy a nuclear bomb that costs 1.5 times its weight in solid gold. It would make even King Midas blush. Nuclear weapons programs now cost so much they are actually more expensive than if they were made of gold.

The defense budget is famous for waste. The Pentagon has bought a $640 toilet seat, a $7,600 coffee maker, and a $436 hammer.

Now, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the agency in charge of the United State's nuclear warheads, wants to pay $10 billion to overhaul its B-61 nuclear bombs -- at $28 million per bomb. This is a bomb designed to fight a nuclear war in Europe, and still kept in our inventory.

Today on the Ploughshares Fund blog, we've presented an infographic depicting the B-61 bomb's current cost versus its cost in solid gold. Even with the record gold prices, the real bomb is more expensive than its hypothetical golden cousin by roughly $10 million per bomb.

The solid gold nuclear bomb is only one example, but the Midas touch does not stop there. Across the board, nuclear costs are exploding.

A few years ago, NNSA told Congress it wanted to build a new plutonium plant for its nuclear bombs (called the CMRR) for an estimated $660 million. The cost for the plant has now skyrocketed to over $6 billion.

The Navy wants to build 12 new nuclear-armed submarines for an estimated $350 billion over the life of the program. When these boats go into production, they will eat up to 25 percent of the Navy's entire shipbuilding budget.

There's a smarter approach. Former officials like Gen. James Cartwright and Amb. Thomas Pickering say the U.S. should get rid of its excess Cold War weapons, not waste money on them. With almost 5,000 nuclear bombs in our active stockpile, we have plenty of room to cut.

At the end of the myth, King Midas was starving and begging to be relieved of his terrible golden touch. Isn't it time for the Pentagon to get rid of its own golden curse, before it starves our military of the resources they truly need?