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Obama Seeks Boost in DOE Nuclear Weapons Spending, Cut to Nonproliferation

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

A U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration official watches as highly enriched uranium from the Czech Republic is loaded onto a ship in Poland for final transport to Russia. The semiautonomous Energy Department agency plans to cut funding for nonproliferation operations in the next budget (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo). A U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration official watches as highly enriched uranium from the Czech Republic is loaded onto a ship in Poland for final transport to Russia. The semiautonomous Energy Department agency plans to cut funding for nonproliferation operations in the next budget (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo).

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Wednesday proposed a 9-percent boost to funding for Energy Department nuclear weapons activities coupled with a planned cut to nonproliferation programs, some of which have proven controversial.

Under the fiscal 2014 spending plan, the Energy Department would receive $7.87 billion “to maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent as described in the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) of 2010.” This is $654 million more than what Congress approved for fiscal 2012 and close to $300 million above what it provided through a continuing resolution for this budget year.

Republicans have pressured President Obama to follow through on his 2010 pledge to provide $85 billion over a decade for modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“This funding proposal is the result of an unprecedented cooperative analysis and planning process jointly conducted by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Department of Defense (DOD),” according to a budget summary the White House Management and Budget Office released late Wednesday morning. The nuclear agency is a semi-independent branch of the Energy Department.

“The budget meets the goals of the NPR by funding cost increases for nuclear weapon life extension program such as: upgrades to the W-78 and W-88 nuclear weapons; improving or replacing aging facilities, such as the Uranium Processing Facility; adding funds for tritium production and plutonium manufacturing and experimentation; and sustaining the existing stockpile by maintaining the underlying science, surveillance, and other support programs,” the document adds.

The spending plan does call for funding cut to at least one weapons-related program – the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which in part is meant to support the nonexplosive testing and sustainment of the nuclear arsenal. The OMB release did not include specific fiscal 2014 figures for the facility but “proposes to achieve savings by reducing investments” in the project, which it notes “failed to achieve ignition in 2012 as scheduled.”

While details were expected to be released later Wednesday, significant cuts appear to be planned for the nonproliferation side of the NNSA budget. The fiscal 2014 plan calls for $2.14 billion “to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” down from the $2.3 billion Congress approved for fiscal 2012.

“Decreases to nonproliferation funding are due to the planned December 2013 completion of the domestic uranium enrichment research, development, and demonstration project, and from restructuring the plutonium disposition program,” according to the OMB summary.

The centerpiece of the “restructuring” of the plutonium disposition program appears to be a possible cancellation of the controversial program in which weapon-usable plutonium would be converted into nuclear fuel. Critics have long cited concerns about cost overruns, delays and proliferation risks associated with the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina, and it appears the administration is taking a hard look at some of these arguments.

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