FAS Presses for Release of Nuclear Stockpile Data

03.11.21 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Updated below

For the past three years, the Trump Administration refused to provide an annual tally of the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. nuclear stockpile or the number of weapons that had been dismantled each year, though that had been the practice under the Obama Administration and through 2017.

The Federation of American Scientists asked the Biden Administration to restore the prior level of disclosure and to report the missing stockpile and dismantlement numbers for 2018, 2019 and 2020.

In a petition submitted to the Department of Energy, FAS noted that President Biden had directed agencies in a February 4 directive to adopt “the highest standards of transparency.”

“By terminating the annual disclosure of stockpile information, the prior Administration retreated from ‘the highest standards of transparency’ that previously prevailed,” the FAS petition said.

The Department of Energy acknowledged receipt of the request. Declassification and disclosure of the requested stockpile data will require concurrence of both DOE and DoD. Historically, DOE has long been willing to disclose such information, while DoD has often resisted release.

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According to FAS estimates by Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, the current U.S. nuclear stockpile is around 3,800 weapons, and the number of weapons dismantled is probably around 300-350 per year. For more detail, see the FAS Nuclear Notebook on United States nuclear weapons, 2021, published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Although the unofficial estimates are probably quite accurate, formal declassification remains desirable both in order to curtail improper secrecy and to enable government officials to freely address the subject in open public forums.

Update (October 5, 2021): The Department of State and the National Nuclear Security Administration have now released annual stockpile and dismantlement figures through FY 2020.