New Warhead Funds More Than Tripled in '08 Budget Request

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's spending plan for fiscal 2008 includes a more than three-fold increase in funds for the development of a next-generation nuclear warhead (see GSN, Jan. 26). Funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, envisioned three years ago by Congress as a way to improve the reliability and longevity of the nuclear arsenal without underground testing, was last set for fiscal 2006 at $25 million.

Congress failed to finalize a spending bill for the present fiscal year, but a House draft more than doubled spending to $52.7 million, indicating a level of commitment to the program (see GSN, May 22, 2006).

The current long-term resolution passed by the House of Representatives this month to fund the government through to 2008 maintains the current spending level at $25 million.  The Senate must still pass the resolution.

The White House budget request for fiscal 2008, released yesterday, would increase spending to nearly $89 million, about double the level requested for the current fiscal year.

The significant increase in requested funding coincides with a move to a more advanced stage of design and a cost study for the weapons program, Energy Department officials said.

The Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories have each submitted proposed designs for the new warhead.  An interagency Nuclear Weapons Council is expected to announce a design within weeks that combines elements of both submissions.  The announcement was originally expected in November of last year (see GSN, Jan. 8).

A preliminary judgment on the warhead design proposals has been made and consultations are now ongoing with military representatives in the Defense Department, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said yesterday while presenting the budget to reporters

"It's been my experience that things go better if everyone is happy and understanding of why various decisions have been made, and so we've had a delay in the announcement," he said.  "So, the big jump is we're committed to moving forward … to the design."

Work in 2008 is set to include production and design engineering and hydrodynamic experiments to "know what we're getting into," said Thomas D'Agostino, acting administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.  Hydrodynamic experiments are a way to model the compression necessary to spark a fission reaction, using high explosives and a nonfissile, heavy isotope as a surrogate for plutonium.

Current DOE plans call for engineering development to begin by fiscal 2010 and a deployable warhead to be available by 2012.  It would be at the  discretion of Congress to fund the program as requested, change or cancel it.

Critics say the current life-extension program is adequate to maintain the U.S. arsenal of warheads and suggest that despite a goal to the contrary, RRW research would necessitate a return to underground nuclear testing.

Overall, nuclear weapons activities, such as stockpile maintenance and research into increasing the life of current warheads, would receive a budget increase of $103 million to more than $6.5 billion in the fiscal 2008 request.  That represents a $1.6 percent increase over the fiscal 2007 request.

The nuclear weapons laboratories, however, would see a decrease in defense program funding over the 2007 request.  Funding for Los Alamos would fall to $1.55 billion from $1.65 billion requested, but the laboratory would receive $46 million for upgrades in security, an area where it has an especially blemished record (see GSN, Feb. 1).  Due to the impasse over the fiscal 2007 budget, the laboratories are currently funded at fiscal 2006 levels.

The budget request for DOE defense nuclear nonproliferation programs fell by slightly more than 3 percent, or $53 million, from the level requested by the president in fiscal 2007.  The 2008 mark at $1.67 billion, while a decrease from the 2007 request, is a jump up from the $1.62 billion requested and funded in 2006 (see GSN, Feb. 1).

A decrease in some nonproliferation categories is due to a number of threat reduction projects designed to secure nuclear material and weapons in the former Soviet Union drawing to a close, DOE officials said.

International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation, which seeks to secure civil military nuclear sites in Russia and elsewhere, would see a $41 million decrease from fiscal 2007 levels.

For surplus disposition of fissile material in the United States, the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina would see a more than $25 million increase to support construction of several buildings in 2008.

Funding for the parallel Russian facility, which would convert excess plutonium to a proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel, would fall nearly $35 million as unused funds for that project are carried over (see GSN, Sept. 18, 2006).

Global Threat Reduction Initiative funding would increase $13 million over the level requested in 2007 to nearly $120 million.

That program seeks to repatriate U.S. and Russian spent reactor fuel being used in other nations, and to convert research reactors from using highly enriched uranium to more proliferation-resistant low-enriched fuel (see GSN, Dec. 18, 2006).

The most significant increase is in a program to secure nuclear material in Kazakhstan, from $4 million requested in fiscal 2007 to $32 million.  The increase reflects production and delivery of 27 100-ton casks to store 10,000 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and 3,000 kilograms of plutonium in the former Soviet state.

Elsewhere in the DOE budget, the White House provides for a $26 million increase in nuclear weapons incident response, a 20 percent jump over the fiscal 2007 request to more than $160 million.  The increase is for two new programs, National Technical Forensics, which would support both pre- and post-detonation analysis of nuclear material, and Stabilization Implementation, a research project to develop technologies to stabilize a nuclear device until response teams can arrive.

The Bush administration would provide an extra 17 percent above 2007 levels for the Homeland Security Department's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, which coordinates the nation's nuclear detection efforts and is spearheading an initiative to improve to track nuclear material to its source.

The budget includes $563 million for the office, representing a more than 400 percent increase in funding since the division was launched in 2005

That includes $178 million for the installation of both fixed and mobile radiation detectors at nation's ports and border crossings.  None of those funds would be made available until the Homeland Security Department verifies to Congress that the next-generation radiation detectors it plans to install are more effective than those currently being employed (see GSN, Oct. 3, 2006).

An additional $30 million would go to a program launched to ring major urban areas with equipment to detect nuclear or radiological material before it can be smuggled inside a city.

The White House request includes a $15 million increase for the Homeland Security Secure Freight Initiative, a program to screen U.S.-bound cargo for nuclear material, and a $47.4 million increase for research and development of nuclear detectors and other technology.

Within the Health and Human Services Department, the proposed budget carries a more than 3 percent increase in biodefense spending, a jump of $141 million over fiscal 2007 to $4.3 billion.  That includes a $135 million increase for development of medical countermeasures against biological agents (see GSN, Jan. 16).

Within the Defense Department, the budget includes $9.78 billion for ballistic missile defenses, a decrease of $560 million, or nearly 6 percent, from the level requested in 2007.

February 6, 2007
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WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's spending plan for fiscal 2008 includes a more than three-fold increase in funds for the development of a next-generation nuclear warhead (see GSN, Jan. 26). Funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, envisioned three years ago by Congress as a way to improve the reliability and longevity of the nuclear arsenal without underground testing, was last set for fiscal 2006 at $25 million.