In an historic step, the U.S. Government will formally reveal the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal.
Until now, the shifting size of the nuclear arsenal had only been declassified from 1945 up to 1961. Current stockpile figures were the subject of more or less informed speculation. The pending disclosure was first reported by the Washington Post.
Among other things, the declassification of the nuclear stockpile is a milestone in secrecy reform. It means that what must be the single most significant number in the domain of national security policy will now be in the public domain. It will also set a standard by which the nuclear transparency policies of other nations may be assessed.
If there is any cause for dismay in today’s announcement, it is that it took so long to accomplish. The Department of Energy, which has the highest concentration of nuclear weapons expertise in the federal government, had proposed declassification of stockpile size as early as 1992, as noted in a 2000 DOE fact sheet on the subject. But the DOE proposal was blocked by the Department of Defense.
Other DOE declassification proposals that have been stymied would have disclosed the explosive yield of retired or dismantled nuclear weapons (blocked by DOD), and the locations of former nuclear weapons storage sites abroad (blocked by DOD and State). An Energy Department classification official told Secrecy News last week that the Department also favors public disclosure of the budget of the DOE Office of Intelligence (which had been public information up until 2004), but that the Director of National Intelligence had vetoed the move.
“We get blamed for a lot of stuff that’s not our fault,” the DOE official said.
Update: The newly declassified stockpile data were released by the Department of Defense in Fact Sheet: Increasing Transparency in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile (pdf), May 3, 2010. A DoD background briefing on the new disclosure is here.