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NNSA Seeks No Funds for Reliable Replacement Warhead

(May. 11) -National Nuclear Security Administration head Thomas D'Agostino last week discussed details of his agency's $9.9 billion budget request for fiscal 2010 (U.S. Energy Department photo). (May. 11) -National Nuclear Security Administration head Thomas D'Agostino last week discussed details of his agency's $9.9 billion budget request for fiscal 2010 (U.S. Energy Department photo).

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration requested no funds for the controversial Reliable Replacement Warhead program in its fiscal 2010 budget request, Environment and Energy Daily reported Friday (see GSN, May 8).

The Bush-era program was intended to create new nuclear-warhead designs that were more secure, more dependable and cheaper to maintain. Critics have said the initiative undermined U.S. efforts to promote nuclear nonproliferation, and Congress gave it no funding in the last two budgets (see GSN, Dec. 19, 2008).

However, the new budget would include $143 million for advanced certification activities to ensure the viability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without explosive testing.

The certification program "is important scientific work. We need to do it regardless," said NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino. "The scientific work underpinning any discussion to certify the stockpile or anything else that comes downstream is important" for preparing to evaluate nuclear-weapon reliability without the option of conducting test detonations, he said.

The United States presently observes a voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing. The Obama administration, though, has said it intends to press for congressional ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (see GSN, April 20).

The $9.9 billion NNSA budget proposal would formally increase defense nonproliferation funding by 44 percent in fiscal year 2010, but much of that boost would come from shifting money for two existing projects.

Nonproliferation programs would receive $2.1 billion for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. Roughly 67 percent of the funding boost is aimed at helping the agency retake control of two South Carolina-based facilities being constructed to convert 34 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel for use in civilian nuclear reactors (see GSN, May 4).

Responding last year to Russian delays in eliminating excess plutonium under a bilateral deal, a U.S. House of Representatives panel placed the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility and the Waste Solidification Building projects under the jurisdiction of the Energy Department's Nuclear Energy Office. The Bush administration transferred funding to the new office, but the programs retained their NNSA administrators.

The Obama administration wants to move the projects back under the auspices of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the semiautonomous Energy Department entity that oversees the nation's nuclear weapons complex.

"The president thinks it is a nonproliferation program, which it is," said NNSA Principal Assistant Deputy Administrator Ken Baker.

Nuclear weapons work at the DOE branch would receive roughly $6.3 billion, a hike of $4 million from the present fiscal year.

The nuclear agency intends to slow the pace of work on significant portions of "Complex Transformation" -- the program to save money and increase efficiency through consolidation of U.S. nuclear operations and facilities -- pending completion this year of the Obama administration's nuclear posture review, D'Agostino said (see GSN, March 27). While construction activities might move ahead less rapidly, consolidation of nuclear materials and other projects are set to continue moving forward, he added (Katherine Ling, Environment and Energy Daily, May 8).

The budget request would also bump up spending at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee to $943 million, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Some of the new funds would bolster nonproliferation work at the Oak Ridge site, according to the newspaper (Frank Munger, Knoxville News Sentinel, May 8).

Note to our Readers

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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