Brinkmanship between the United States and North Korea around the subject of nuclear weapons has experts worldwide worried about heightened "tensions." On a practical level, just how expensive are these bombs?
To determine the cost of one nuclear weapon, you have to account for the costs of their production, delivery systems and maintenance.
"South Korean government analysis has put North Korea's nuclear spending at $1.1 billion to $3.2 billion overall," reported Reuters last year, "although experts say it is impossible to make an accurate calculation given the secrecy surrounding the program, and estimates vary widely."
The U.S. government believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has up to 60 nuclear weapons, though some independent experts say the total is smaller. If North Korea does indeed have around 60, that puts the cost of each warhead at between around $18 million and $53 million.
The U.S. nuclear program provides a more reliable picture of cost, though not all nuclear development information is public. In "Atomic Audit," published in 1998, Stephen I. Schwartz claimed the U.S. had spent $5 trillion since 1940 on developing and maintaining its nuclear arsenal.
The U.S. government is now estimated to have 6,800 nuclear weapons at its disposal, but America hasn't actually built a new warhead or bomb since the 1990s. "It has refurbished several types in recent years to extend their lifetime," says Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund, a senior scientist and co-director of the UCS Global Security Program.
The B61-12 atomic bombs, for instance, are to undergo a life-extension program that will cost roughly $9.5 billion. There are 400 to 500 of these bombs, says Gronlund, which means refurbishing one will cost about $20 million.
W-80 warheads, another type being refurbished, are estimated to cost $75 million each when you account for the price tag of the B52 bombers that deliver them. Frank G. Klotz, the national administrator of the Nuclear Security Administration, estimated that the total cost of the W-80 life extension plan will be $7.3 billion to $9.9 billion over 17 years.
Gronlund predicts that, in total, the U.S. will spend $250 billion on its nuclear program in the next few decades.
As for North Korea, the new U.N. sanctions that China and Russia agreed to impose on Saturday will likely set it back. The banned exports is expected to cost them a third of their annual $3 billion earnings.
U.S. analysts believe North Korea has nuclear warheads that can fit inside of missiles, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. The insight comes just weeks after the regime fired a missile that landed within 230 miles of the Japanese coast. In response, on Tuesday, President Trump told reporters that "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States," or "they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."
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