Economic Consequences

Many secrets surround the topic of nuclear weapons, including how much money is spent on nuclear programs. What is certain is that the nuclear weapon states spend enormous sums of money on maintaining and developing their arsenals. Currently, all nuclear weapon states are pursuing costly modernization programs to upgrade and renew their nuclear weapons.

It is difficult to get a handle on what the world’s nuclear weapons actually cost, as none of the nuclear weapon states report their specific costs for nuclear weapons in particular. The United States and United Kingdom openly report some of their nuclear weapons expenditures, but researchers doubt that the total amount that is disclosed.

However, there is official data on the world’s total military expenditure. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) annually collects and compiles data on defense costs from all states around the world.

In the US, UK and France, there is an openness that allows researchers to go through the countries’ public finances and try to identify which costs can be linked to nuclear weapons and come up with a close approximation of their cost. Some of these costs are included in the military expenditure, but they can also lie under other items in the budget, which makes the researchers’ work more difficult. The costs can also be scattered in different places within the budget and “hidden” under unassuming headings. Certain equipment, for example aircraft, can also be used both to carry ordinary conventional bombs and nuclear bombs, so-called “dual use“, which makes it even more difficult to calculate the actual costs of nuclear weapons.

In the case of the other nuclear weapons states, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, there is no similar openness. For these states, the researchers have made estimates of the costs based on what is believed to be known about their nuclear weapons.

World nuclear costs

In 2021, a report by ICAN came out with calculations of how much the nine nuclear weapon states spent on their arsenals in a single year, in this case the year 2020. Together, they are estimated to have spent 72.6 billion US dollars.

The United States accounts for by far the largest share of the world’s global military expenditures. In 2020, the figure was 39%.

US nuclear weapons program

The United States is estimated to have spent $37.6 billion on its nuclear weapons in 2020, according to ICAN’s report Complicit: 2020 Nuclear Weapons Spending. That’s almost twice as much as France, United Kingdom and Russia spent combined that same year.

The United States Congress has estimated that the nuclear weapons program over the period 2021–2030 will cost $634 billion, roughly $60 billion per year.

The United States has also adopted a nuclear weapons modernization plan estimated to cost $1.5 trillion over the next three decades.

The cost of the US nuclear weapons program from its inception in 1940 to 1996 has been estimated at $5.5 trillion by the researchers behind the book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, which is a detailed account of US nuclear weapons costs.

United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons program

UK’s spending on its nuclear weapons program in 2020 was about US$6.2 billion, according to ICAN’s report Complicit: 2020 Nuclear Weapons Spending.

In 2016, the UK decided on a total renewal of its Trident nuclear weapons system, as the current system will be obsolete by the mid-2020s. The nuclear weapons program consists of four missile submarines equipped with nuclear weapons. The cost to renew is estimated to be £31 billion by the 2040s when the entire system will be replaced, according to the UK government, making it one of the UK’s most expensive programs.

According to the calculations of the organization BASIC, the total costs of replacing the nuclear weapons system may land at significantly larger sums, up to 140 billion pounds.

In April 2021, UK decided to increase its cap on the nuclear warhead stockpile by 40 percent. That will also raise the cost for the nuclear weapons programme.

Determining the historical costs of UK’s nuclear weapons is difficult, but a compilation by the House of Commons Library gives an indication of what the country’s nuclear weapons program has cost. The cost of replacing the former Polaris nuclear weapons system with Trident, which began in the 1980s, for example, is estimated up to 1998 to have cost £18.7 billion in today’s money.

France’s nuclear weapons program

France’s spending on its nuclear weapons program in 2020 was about US$5.7 billion, according to ICAN’s report Complicit: 2020 Nuclear Weapons Spending.

A modernization of France’s nuclear weapons is underway, where, among other things, the country’s four nuclear-armed submarines are expected to be replaced. French President Emmanuel Macron has earmarked 37 billion euros to upgrade the French nuclear weapons program between 2019-2025. This is a substantial increase compared to the previous period, 2014–2019, which was 23 billion euros.

The researcher Bruno Barillot has calculated the total cost of France’s nuclear weapons in the years 1945 – 2010. In his book Audit atomique. Le coût de l’arsenal nucléaire français 1945-2010 he writes that they cost at least 1,891 billion French francs (1997 monetary value).

The other nuclear weapon states

Calculating the costs of other nuclear weapons states’ arsenals is more difficult due to the lack of transparency. According to ICAN’s report Complicit: 2020 Nuclear Weapons Spending, the remaining nuclear weapons states are estimated to have spent the following sums (in US dollar) in 2020:

$10.1 billion
$8 billion
$2.48 billion
$1.1 billion
$1 billion
North Korea $667 million

US nuclear weapons in Europe

In Europe, there are nuclear weapons deployed on air bases in five countries; Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey. NATO’s investment costs to maintain the bases were estimated at more than $80 million from the year 2000 to the year 2014. According to data from 2014, it was reported that the United States is spending an additional $154 million to improve the security of the air bases. According to figures from the same year, the United States spends approximately $100 million annually on having nuclear weapons deployed in Europe.

Who benefits from nuclear weapons?

Many companies are enriching themselves from the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The report Perilous Profiteering: The companies building nuclear arsenals and their financial backers from 2021, produced by the organizations ICAN and Pax, studies the companies that make money from nuclear weapons and how they are financed.

The report shows that 25 companies from China, France, India, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States are involved in the manufacture and development of nuclear weapons, including major arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Huntington Ingalls Industries and General Dynamics.

At the same time, banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions all over the world participate in and finance the nuclear weapons industry through their investments in the companies that manufacture and develop these weapons. In total, 338 financial institutions have invested more than $685 billion in the nuclear industry since 2019.

Since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted in 2017, more and more financial institutions have divested from nuclear weapons companies, and a growing number of the world’s financial institutions are developing policies against investing in companies involved in the nuclear weapons industry.

The Economic Consequences of Nuclear Weapons

The nuclear weapons states prioritize spending huge sums of taxpayers’ money on their nuclear weapons, which means that other expenses and needs of a country are overshadowed. The resources used for nuclear weapons are desperately needed elsewhere – such as funding healthcare and education.

In March 2020, ICAN compared the costs of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States’ nuclear weapons programs with the costs of the countries’ healthcare.

The sum France spends on its nuclear weapons, €4.55 billion a year, could instead have paid for 100,000 intensive care hospital beds, 10,000 ventilators and the salaries of 20,000 French nurses and 10,000 French doctors.

The £7.2bn a year UK spends on its nuclear weapons program is equivalent to 100,000 intensive care hospital beds, 30,000 ventilators and the salaries of 50,000 UK nurses and 40,000 UK doctors.

The US nuclear weapons program costs about $35.1 billion a year. During the coronavirus pandemic, experts warned at the same time that American hospitals needed about 300,000 extra beds in intensive care units and tens of thousands of extra ventilators. The sum the US spends on its nuclear weapons in one year would pay for both those 300,000 extra ICU beds, 35,000 ventilators and salaries for 150,000 US nurses and 75,000 US doctors.

Another comparison is the budget for UN peacekeeping operations, which was US$6.38 billion for the 2021/2022 budget year. The peacekeeping operations thus have only a small part in comparison with what the US’ nuclear weapons cost.

The idea of ​​setting the costs of rearmament against the actual needs of the world is not new. The Thorsson Report, submitted to the UN General Assembly in 1981, was a report on the relationship between disarmament and development. The report was prepared by an expert group led by the Swedish diplomat and peace activist Inga Thorsson.

“The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.” – Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 2009

Sources and more information

Export control and dual-use products, Stockholms universitet
Complicit: 2020 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN
World military spending rises to almost $2 trillion in 2020, SIPRI
The US Trillion Dollar Nuclear Triad, Jon Wolfsthal, January 7, 2014
Fact Sheet: U.S. Nuclear Weapons Modernization: Costs & Constraints, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
How much does the UK spend on nuclear weapons?, BASIC
The United Kingdom’s future nuclear deterrent: the 2021 update to Parliament,, United Kingdom Government
The French Nuclear Deterrent, UK Parliament, House of Commons Library


Swedish Physicians Against Nuclear Weapons

Last updated
11 January, 2023