WASHINGTON – House appropriators were poised on Wednesday to consider largely endorsing the Obama administration’s nuclear arms spending plan while boosting funding in the next budget for select nuclear security programs and slashing spending on a controversial fuel reprocessing initiative (see GSN, April 24).
The House Appropriations Committee in a draft report for an energy and water development spending bill recommended $7.58 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s weapons activities. That is roughly $300 million more than allocated for the current budget and $65 million below what the administration requested for the fiscal year that begins on Oct 1.
At press time, the committee was beginning consideration of amendments to the wide-ranging energy and water development legislation and had not taken a final vote. A Senate Appropriations subcommittee has also mostly backed the administration’s plans for nuclear weapons spending, and the full panel is scheduled to take up the issue on Thursday.
The House committee offered a preliminary endorsement of the administration’s proposal to delay by five years construction of a new plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
Pushing back work on the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project would “not adversely impact sustainment of the stockpile in the near term since alternatives are available,” the report says. The endorsement by the GOP-controlled committee comes despite strong criticisms of the administration's nuclear complex plan from other leading Republicans (see GSN, April 18).
The report calls for $16.6 million in increased spending for the NNSA Global Threat Reduction Initiative above the Obama administration’s request of $466 million; that would still be a nearly $16 million cut from the current year’s spending. The program is aimed at safeguarding vulnerable nuclear and radiological material -- a key administration goal.
Appropriators also shifted $152.8 million away from the mixed-oxide fuel reprocessing project at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, which would convert nuclear-weapon material into reactor fuel.
In a Tuesday analysis of the report, the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation praised what it called a “strong rebuke” of the mixed-oxide fuel project, which watchdog groups have argued should not be included in the NNSA nonproliferation operations budget. The program actually increases proliferation risks by creating a fuel with a fissile component that is easily separable, according to critics.
House appropriators said in their report that there “is still no fidelity on the total project costs and timeline to get the MOX facility up and running, and few details have been provided on the long term investments that will, be need to support full operating feedstock requirements.”
The House committee did not directly increase the administration’s controversial request to fund the Second Line of Defense program at 65 percent below fiscal 2012 levels. Senate appropriators on Tuesday proposed boosting the requested $92.6 million by $54 million.
Acknowledging NNSA leaders’ desire for a “strategic pause” to evaluate the future of the program, which installs radiation detection equipment at foreign points of entry, the House report does recommend $10 million “above the request for proliferation detection, to accelerate development of new technology for nuclear detector materials and performance research that will improve options available for Second Line of Defense activities.”
“The recommendation also includes [$20 million] above the request for nuclear detonation detection, for infrastructure investments which will enhance nonproliferation efforts and provide additional capabilities, such as those needed for pre- and post-detonation nuclear forensics,” according to the report.
Overall, the report funds the NNSA Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account at $2.276 billion, a decrease of $20 million below what Congress appropriated for fiscal 2012 and $182.6 million less than the administration requested for fiscal 2013
House appropriators were poised on Wednesday to consider largely endorsing the Obama administration’s nuclear arms spending plan while boosting funding in the next budget for select nuclear security programs and slashing spending on a controversial fuel reprocessing initiative.