WASHINGTON — WITH the end of the cold war, American nuclear weapons have been coming home from overseas in record numbers. Thousands now are stored in stateside depots awaiting eventual dismantlement.
It is the most extensive movement of American atomic arms since the arsenal was greatly expanded in the late 1950s and early '60s, according to a new study of United States nuclear deployments.
Nuclear arms are stockpiled in 25 states. The number of storage sites on foreign soil has declined from 125 only a few years ago to 16 today, in seven different countries. "Virtually all nuclear basing overseas has been eliminated," says the report, produced by Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Since the dawn of the atomic age, US scientists have produced a total of 70,000 nuclear weapons, according to the report. Of these some 50,000 have already reached the end of their service life and been retired. About 19,000 are still around today. Of these, 11,500 are in service. About 7,500 are sitting around awaiting dismantlement, says Greenpeace/NRDC.
The current No. 1 nuclear weapons state in the US is South Carolina. The Charleston Naval Weapons Station and an associated nearby storage site now hold 2,258 warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles, according to Greenpeace/NRDC figures. Slightly more than half of the weapons came from 10 Poseidon missile-carrying subs that were retired in September, 1991, as a head start on complying with the START arms treaty.
No. 2 on the "nuke" list is New Mexico, largely because Kirtland Air Force Base near Albuquerque is a Department of Energy nuclear weapon transshipment point, as well as one of the Air Force's main atomic depots. There are currently thought to be more than 1,000 Army tactical nuclear weapons, both artillery shells and rockets, stored at Kirtland.
The state with the third-largest nuclear stockpile is North Dakota, as it has two large Air Force bases that both host nuclear bombers and ICBMs. Fourth in line is Texas, which has both deployed Air Force weapons and the big PANTEX plant near Amarillo, where the US Department of Energy builds and disassembles warheads.
Rounding out the top five is Washington State, which has B-52 bombers at Fairchild AFB and the big Bangor Naval Submarine Base. The Trident submarines that operate out of Bangor are among the most modern US nuclear weapons; they will increase in importance as older weapons are dismantled because of arms pacts. Thus, Greenpeace/NRDC predicts that by the year 2000 Washington will be the number one nuclear deployment state.
Currently, about 5 percent of US nuclear weapons are overseas, down from 30 percent a decade ago. Major reasons for this change include the INF treaty of 1987, which eliminated intermediate-range missiles, and last year's unilateral pledge by President Bush to withdraw all US Army tactical nukes from Europe.
The largest remaining deployment is in Germany, where five US air bases between them have about 325 air-drop nuclear bombs. That is a far cry from the Cold War days of 1985, when there were 3,400 US atomic warheads in the country.
The US also retains 300 nuclear weapons in the United Kingdom, 150 in both Turkey and Italy, and smaller numbers in Greece, Belgium, and the Netherlands.