Last weekend, moviegoers flocked to see the new film “Oppenheimer.” The movie tells the story of Robert J. Oppenheimer, the scientist who played an influential role in the Manhattan Project and who is widely considered “the father of the atomic bomb.”
Our relationship with the fear of nuclear weapons ebbs and flows with the geopolitical situation, and it shouldn’t, because the threat is constant.
Coinciding with the film’s release, is the release of a new report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It estimates that U.S. nuclear forces will cost $756 billion over the next 10 years, averaging $75 billion a year.
This estimate is $122 billion higher than the CBO’s last estimate in 2021. The large price tag is primarily due to efforts to upgrade—or modernize—every part of the U.S nuclear arsenal.
The rise in these cost estimates signals an alarming trend. Despite the current administration’s commitments to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security, Congress continues to chart a dangerous nuclear course.
Since the release of the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, President Biden has strongly opposed two nuclear weapons that were deemed redundant or unnecessary: The Nuclear Sea Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-N) and the B-83-1 Gravity Bomb.
The administration argued that these weapons are redundant, create additional risks, and are unnecessary for the defense of the United States. Despite that strong opposition, Congress is primed to authorize more money than ever for the SLCM-N ($190 million for this weapon and $75 million for its associated warhead) while limiting the president’s ability to retire the B-83-1 Gravity Bomb.
Pro-Disarmament Lawmakers Leverage Renewed Interest in Nuclear Weapons
The release of “Oppenheimer” has given nuclear weapons policy a unique moment in the spotlight. Lawmakers who have championed arms control and disarmament efforts are seizing the moment to promote their initiatives.
Sen. Ed Markey (MA) has been promoting his proposal to ban Artificial Intelligence from launching nuclear weapons. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (NM) renewed his call to expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act or RECA (HR. 4426/S.1751) and raised concerns about the negative consequences of the U.S nuclear tests.
Modern nuclear weapons are much more destructive than Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb.
“With so much interest in Oppenheimer and the Trinity Test, this is an opportunity to educate millions of Americans that nearly eight decades later, New Mexicans are still dealing with the impacts of radiation exposure,” said Lujan.
Reigniting the public debate was “Oppenheimer” director Christopher Nolan’s goal. In a recent interview, Nolan was asked what he would want members of Congress to take away from the film.
“Our relationship with the fear of nuclear weapons ebbs and flows with the geopolitical situation, and it shouldn’t, because the threat is constant,” said Nolan. “So even though the situation in Ukraine kind of puts it more in the forefront of people’s minds, the truth is, nuclear weapons are an extraordinarily dangerous thing to have lying around the house.”
Modern nuclear weapons are much more destructive than Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb. Congress must prioritize diplomacy, arms control, and disarmament, rather than costly and potentially dangerous nuclear modernization efforts. The threat posed by nuclear weapons is constant, and the urgency to address it should remain a steadfast priority.