KEY POINTS

  • The NNSA said there are still around 2,000 warheads waiting to be dismantled and retired
  • The Pentagon said last year that China’s nuclear warhead stockpile was “in the low 200s”
  • Shipments of radioactive materials used in reactors were canceled by the U.S. nuclear regulator last month

President Joe Biden’s administration said Tuesday that the United States has more than 3,700 warheads as of September 2020, marking the first time since 2018 that the government disclosed such information amid mounting tensions with China.

In its new report, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said “the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads consisted of 3,750 warheads" as of September 2020. 

According to the agency, this number “represents an approximate 88 percent reduction in the stockpile from its maximum (31,255) at the end of fiscal year 1967, and an approximate 83 percent reduction from its level (22,217) when the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989.”

The report added that the U.S. dismantled 11,683 nuclear warheads from fiscal years 1994 through 2020. There are still around 2,000 warheads waiting to be dismantled and retired.

The agency also said that increasing the transparency of states’ nuclear stockpiles “is important to non-proliferation and disarmament efforts, including commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. last disclosed its warhead stockpile numbers in 2018. At that time, the administration reported that there were 3,822 warheads in 2017. The administration also said last year that it would not disclose figures for a second time.

Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Hans Kristensen, noted that the Biden administration’s seeming reversal of Trump’s policy was getting the government “back to transparency,” The Associated Press reported.

Last year, the Pentagon estimated that China’s nuclear warhead stockpile was “in the low 200s.” It added that China may double its nuclear warhead count in the next 10 years. Around the same time, FAS estimated that the Asian powerhouse had a warhead stockpile of 320. An earlier FAS estimate estimated the Chinese nuclear warhead stockpile at 290 as of late 2019.

Earlier this year, Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, wrote that it appears the Biden administration “sees arms control as a tool that can advance security and stability.”

Pifer said the administration will attempt to get Russia in reducing its nuclear arms. However, Pifer, who is also Director of Brookings’ Arms Control Initiative, noted that nuclear arms control will not take place “immediately.” The government has to conduct broader U.S. policy reviews and also begin looking into strategic stability talks that may need more than just Russia in the discussions, but also “third-country nuclear forces such as China.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in an order dated Sept. 27 that the White House suspended shipment of radioactive materials and a hydrogen isotope used in reactors to CGN, China’s largest state-owned nuclear company, Reuters reported. The nuclear power regulator said the suspension was necessary due to the government’s concerns over China’s atomic bomb weaponry buildup.

China has condemned a Pentagon report for claiming Beijing wants to double its stockpile of nuclear warheads within a decade China has condemned a Pentagon report for claiming Beijing wants to double its stockpile of nuclear warheads within a decade Photo: POOL / ANDY WONG