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NNSA Defends Nonproliferation Cuts, Boosts Radiation Detection Funding

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

Workers prepare casks of highly enriched uranium for shipment out of the Czech Republic in March under the U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative. Administration officials on Wednesday defended budget cuts to the program (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo). Workers prepare casks of highly enriched uranium for shipment out of the Czech Republic in March under the U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative. Administration officials on Wednesday defended budget cuts to the program (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo).

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Wednesday said it would seek more money to prevent the smuggling of nuclear-weapon materials and defended cuts to other nonproliferation programs.

The White House budget plan rolled out this week would provide $2.14 billion in fiscal 2014 for nonproliferation activities at the National Nuclear Security Administration. That is down from $2.3 billion delivered in fiscal 2012; final amounts for this budget year remain unsettled as Washington deals with the budget sequester.

Meanwhile, the semiautonomous Energy Department agency is looking for $7.87 billion for its weapons activities account, a $654 million boost from two years ago for operations to maintain a safe, secure and reliable nuclear arsenal.

Nonproliferation advocates last year criticized the administration for seeking a 65 percent funding cut for the NNSA Second Line of Defense program, which installs radiation detection equipment at foreign border crossings, seaports and airports. The administration requested only $92.6 million for this budget year after Congress for fiscal 2012 allocated $262.1 million for the program.

Spending would be bumped up to $140 million in the NNSA spending plan for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, agency Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Andrew Bieniawski said during a conference call with reporters late Wednesday. He said the administration had previously projected requesting only $47 million but reversed course following the recent completion of an interagency review of the initiative.

Among the review’s findings was that the agency needed to do more work on fixed-location detection systems, according to Bieniawski.

The Second Line of Defense program has aimed by 2018 to deploy detectors at 650 locations in 30 countries to deter trafficking of materials that could fuel nuclear or radiological weapons.

“We were only 80 percent complete and the interagency said we needed to fund the remaining fixed border crossing and detections systems,” Bieniawski said. “The other element was … to focus on mobile detection and have a high priority on mobile detection to try to address smuggling and illicit trafficking.”

Bieniawski defended the Obama request to cut funding for the agency’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which aims to secure or relocate vulnerable nuclear materials around the globe.

The overall GTRI request is $424 million, a reduction from the fiscal 2013 request of $466 million.

Bieniawski asserted the proposed budget cut is an indication of what has already been accomplished through President Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material throughout the world within four years of his widely touted April 2009 speech in Prague.

 “That really reflects a success because there was significant funding budgeted in [fiscal 2012] and [fiscal 2013] to really front load the efforts under the four year plan,” Bieniawski said. “We are at the end of that four year effort … so you would expect a reduction in GTRI because of the significant increases it had in” fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013.

The nuclear agency announced last week that all highly enriched uranium had been removed from the Czech Republic. In all, 10 nations have been freed of the fissile material with U.S. assistance over the last four years.

“Ten countries have been cleaned out,” Bieniawski said, “we have three left to do so that really highlights the achievement and the completion for that four year effort so you would expect that to go down.”

MOX

The NNSA budget calls for spending $200 million less in the next budget on construction of a facility in South Carolina that would convert weapon-usable plutonium, ABC reported. The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site would receive $503 million.

The Government Accountability Office found that the projected cost of the plant has increased from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion, while its estimated date of completion has been delayed from 2016 to 2019.

The White House Management and Budget Office on Wednesday said the project might ultimately prove “unaffordable.” The National Nuclear Security Administration plans to study whether it makes sense in the long term to carry on with the effort, acting NNSA chief Neile Miller said on Wednesday.

Nuclear agency officials acknowledged that the reduced funding would slow the pace of construction on the MOX site, which is to be used to eliminate 34 metric tons of plutonium under a 2000 U.S.-Russian agreement. The study might not begin for months, Miller said.

Russia, which is required to eliminate an equal amount of plutonium, has been alerted to the situation. Additional discussions are planned for coming weeks, according to Miller.

Agency officials said more detailed budget figures would be available on Friday.

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GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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