KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A sprawling new plant here in a former soybean field makes the mechanical guts of America’s atomic warheads. Bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers, the plant, dedicated last month, modernizes the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines.
It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.
This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for “a nuclear-free world” and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. The original idea was that modest rebuilding of the nation’s crumbling nuclear complex would speed arms refurbishment, raising confidence in the arsenal’s reliability and paving the way for new treaties that would significantly cut the number of warheads.
Instead, because of political deals and geopolitical crises, the Obama administration is engaging in extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return.
A Farewell to Arms
In the fall of 2008, as Barack Obama campaigned for the presidency, a coalition of peace groups sued to halt work on a replacement bomb plant in Kansas City. They cited the prospect of a new administration that might, as one litigant put it, kill the project in “a few months.”
The Kansas City plant, an initiative of the Bush years, seemed like a good target, since Mr. Obama had declared his support for nuclear disarmament.
The $700 million weapons plant survived. But in April 2009, the new president and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev, vowed to rapidly complete an arms treaty called New Start, and committed their nations “to achieving a nuclear-free world.”
Five days later, Mr. Obama spoke in Prague to a cheering throng, saying the United States had a moral responsibility to seek the “security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
“I’m not naïve,” he added. “This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence.”
That October, the Nobel committee, citing his disarmament efforts, announced it would award Mr. Obama the Peace Prize.
At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, birthplace of the atomic bomb, plans for a new complex to shape plutonium fuel emerged a decade ago with a $660 million price tag. But antinuclear groups kept publicizing embarrassing details, like the discovery of a geologic fault under the site. The estimated cost soared to $5.8 billion, and in 2012, the Obama administration suspended the project.
“In the current fiscal crisis,” Charles F. McMillan, the director of Los Alamos, told a nuclear conference last year, building large facilities “may no longer be practical.”
A different problem hit the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn. A $550 million fortress was erected there to safeguard the nation’s main supplies of highly enriched uranium, a bomb fuel considered relatively easy for terrorists to make into deadly weapons.
In 2012, an 82-year-old Roman Catholic nun, Megan Rice, and two accomplices cut through fences, splashed blood on the stronghold and sprayed its walls with peace slogans. The security breach set off major investigations, and the nun was sentenced to almost three years in prison.
Now, the site’s woes have deepened. As Oak Ridge prepared for an even bigger upgrade — replacing buildings that process uranium — the price tag soared from $6.5 billion to $19 billion. This year, the Obama administration scuttled the current plan, and the lab is struggling to revise the blueprint.
Read more at U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms