Nuclear Weapons

The Cold War is over, but the United States and Russia still keep thousands of nuclear weapons on alert and in reserve. Understand the issues with our technical and political analysis.


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Latest Nuclear Weapons Posts

Trump and the Nuclear Codes: How To Launch a Nuclear Weapon

, co-director and senior scientist

There has been a lot of talk about the fact that after his inauguration, Donald Trump will have his finger on the “button” used to launch nuclear weapons. But the president does not actually have a “button.”

Instead when he becomes president he will be given nuclear codes that enable him to launch a nuclear strike.

What does that actually mean? Read more >

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Reflections on the IAEA Nuclear Security Conference: More Participants, Less Focus

, senior scientist

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the conference on nuclear security in Vienna sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The conference was enormous, with 2,000 participants from 130 countries. The US official delegation alone had over 100 people. I heard (but have not substantiated) that the ministerial meeting that preceded the technical meeting attracted a larger number of national delegations than any other IAEA conference in its history. By one measure—inclusivity—the conference seems to have been a success.

However, that success came at a price: a reduction of focus on the most serious nuclear threat—the theft of fissile materials (highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium) that terrorists could use to make improvised nuclear weapons. Read more >

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Cuts to the Fissile Materials Stockpile

, analyst

The Final Countdown

The United States maintains stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile materials—plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU)—that are much larger than needed. This material is a security risk, and is also expensive to store safely. Some of this fissile material has already been declared “excess to military needs” and is awaiting disposition. Even after that excess material is disposed of, however, the United States will still have far more material than it needs for its current or future arsenal. President Obama should declare additional material excess and schedule it for disposition as soon as possible. If done correctly, this would reduce opportunities for nuclear terrorism. It would also be a step toward making nuclear reductions more difficult to reverse.

Read more >

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Cuts to the Hedge

, analyst

It’s Now or Never

One of the things President Obama could still do before leaving office is to cut the “hedge” force. These are nuclear weapons that the United States keeps in reserve for two reasons: technical and geopolitical. The argument for the technical hedge is that, if deployed weapons of one type experienced a problem, the U.S. could instead deploy weapons of another type from the hedge force. The geopolitical argument is that the international security situation could change, leading the United States to want to increase the number of deployed weapons. Read more >

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President Obama Can Still Reduce Stored Nuclear Weapons & Fissile Materials

, analyst

It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over

During the summer and fall, reports appeared that President Obama was considering actions he could take to make a major impact on U.S. nuclear weapons policy before leaving office in January. While the situation has clearly changed since Trump became the president-elect, this still does not mean that Obama’s hands are completely tied. Read more >

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