The United States holds on to its stockpile of nuclear weapons in order to defend the earth against a potential asteroid attack, according to a report.
Government auditors have found that, among other reasons, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is delaying the dismantling of the nation’s old nuclear weapons until a thorough evaluation can measure "their use in planetary defense against earth-bound asteroids."
The unusual finding comes from a Government Accountability Office report detailing an audit on NNSA which manages the US atomic-weapons arsenal.
While there is no real threat from mega-space rocks, an estimated 100,000 or more asteroids pass through the earth's neighborhood, said Lindley Johnson, a program executive at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
If a 100-meter-wide asteroid hit Washington, DC, Johnson said, it "could wipe out everything inside the Beltway."
Early last year, a 20-meter-wide asteroid, carrying a force of more than 400,000 tons of TNT, exploded in the skies near Chelyabinsk, Russia. The incident injured several hundred people, mostly as a result of flying debris.
Jay Melosh, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University told the Wall Street Journal that the US government is trumpeting the need for planetary defense as "an excuse for keeping the nuclear arsenal together."
The US is planning to spend over $1 trillion to upgrade its aging nuclear arsenal over the next three decades, according to a report by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) released early this year.
Based on recent figures from the Federation of Atomic Scientists (FAS), the US currently holds a stockpile of 4,650 nuclear warheads, 2,130 of which operational. In addition, it has 2,700 retired nuclear warheads that are yet to be dismantled.