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Obama Seeks More Money for NNSA, Less for Key Nonproliferation Efforts

By Martin Matishak

Global Security Newswire

(Feb. 15) -U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration workers in 2010 load spent highly enriched uranium into a transport cask for removal from Chile. The Energy Department's fiscal 2012 budget request calls for the agency to receive less funding for "defense nuclear nonproliferation" work than sought for the current budget cycle (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo). (Feb. 15) -U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration workers in 2010 load spent highly enriched uranium into a transport cask for removal from Chile. The Energy Department's fiscal 2012 budget request calls for the agency to receive less funding for "defense nuclear nonproliferation" work than sought for the current budget cycle (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo).

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration yesterday put forth a spending plan that would boost funding for the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration to nearly $12 billion in the next fiscal year (see GSN, Feb. 9).

It marks the second year in row that the nuclear agency has been selected for a cash infusion.

The agency, a semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department, would receive roughly $11.8 billion in fiscal 2012, to maintain the country's nuclear stockpile and conduct nonproliferation activities around the globe, according to the White House funding request.

That figure is a nearly $2 billion increase over the enacted level for the 2010 budget cycle and represents a more than 5 percent hike from the $11.2 billion the administration sought for this budget year.

In December, lawmakers approved a short-term continuing budget resolution that keeps most NNSA funding at fiscal 2010 levels, leaving out a requested $320 million funding boost for the agency's nonproliferation initiatives. The resolution is set to expire on March 4. Congress can pass another resolution or a full budget by that date or risk seeing the federal government close its doors.

Arms control has been near the top of the administration's policy agenda since the president gave a speech in Prague in April 2009 that called for a world free of nuclear weapons. Last year he convened a two-day summit in Washington in which top officials from almost 50 nations made plans to secure the global stores of loose nuclear material within four years.

"The fact that the president's budget does show strong support for these activities is the beginning of the message from the administration that there is an urgency to these activities, even as the administration is cognizant of the need to address the deficit," NNSA Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington told reporters yesterday.

Agency officials "feel pretty good that we have a strong case to be made for all the activities for which we are requesting funding," she added during a late afternoon conference call.

The newly minted appeal seeks $7.6 billion for NNSA "weapons activities," which ensure the safety and performance of the nation's atomic arsenal. That amount is an 8.9 percent, or $621 million, bump from the fiscal 2011 request.

Most of those new funds would go toward stockpile maintenance, according to NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino

Another $2.5 billion would be funneled into the agency's "defense nuclear nonproliferation" program, a more than 5 percent decrease from the present budget cycle request. The program has oversight of the agency's assorted efforts for halting the spread of nuclear material.

The amount represents a down payment on $14.2 billion over the next five years to reduce the global threat posed by unsecured nuclear and radiological materials, the NNSA chief said during the same conference call.

Taken together, the fiscal 2012 budget blueprint marks the first step in administration's commitment to invest $85 billion over the next decade to build new nuclear research and production facilities and overhaul aging warheads, according to D'Agostino. The Obama administration pledged to beef up spending on the nuclear complex during its ultimately successful effort to draw sufficient GOP support for ratification of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia.

The remaining dollars would be steered to other agency efforts, including its national laboratory network and the naval nuclear reactor program.

Weapons Activities

A bulk of the $7.6 billion for NNSA weapons activities, nearly $2 billion, would be devoted to directed stockpile work at the agency's network of facilities. The new figure is an increase of less than $100 million from the request for this budget year.

The operations encompass all activities that directly support weapons in the nuclear arsenal, including maintenance and day-to-day care as well as planned refurbishments.

Funding would support ongoing life-extension programs for the W-76 warhead, which is deployed on the Navy's Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile, and the refurbishment of the B-61 gravity bomb, according to the text of the spending request.

Those dollars would also bankroll an ongoing study to evaluate future options for maintaining the W-78 warhead carried by Minuteman 3 ICBMs.

Another $1.65 billion from the weapons activities account would go toward science, technology and engineering "campaigns," budget documents show. Those programs consist of multiyear efforts to develop and maintain the capabilities needed to assess the safety and reliability of the nuclear arsenal without underground testing.

The combined appeal for the campaigns is a roughly $50 million increase over the fiscal 2011 request.

Meanwhile, $2.7 billion would be spent on agency infrastructure, including final design and construction work on the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement site at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.

Both projects are set to achieve 90 percent "design maturity" late in the next budget cycle, which is when the nuclear agency will finalize the baseline construction cost and schedule for each.

Nuclear Nonproliferation

As the nuclear agency's weapons activities would experience a boost from the last fiscal year, its nonproliferation work would drop from $2.7 billion sought for the 2011 budget to $2.5 billion for the funding year beginning Oct. 1.

The program most affected by the new spending plan would be the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which would see its funding drop from a proposed $559 million in fiscal 2011 to slightly more than $508 million.

The initiative aims to secure and remove "high-priority" vulnerable nuclear material, such as highly enriched uranium, at overseas sites. It also converts HEU-fueled research reactors to use proliferation-resistant low-enriched uranium fuel.

The threat reduction program will see a drop off because it was "front-loaded" in the last budget request to meet the president's goal of securing the world's loose nuclear materials within four years, according to D'Agostino. The program was to have ramped up by $225 million from the $334 actually appropriated in fiscal 2010. That, though, has yet to occur amid the continued budget standoff.

In addition, several projects under the initiative were completed or nearly wrapped up last year, added Harrington. She cited HEU-removal operations in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus.

"There was a real significant increase in our operational tempo in the latter half of the year," Harrington told reporters.

The agency also did not request funding for the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement that calls for Russia and the United States to each eliminate no less than 34 metric tons of excess nuclear-weapon material beginning in 2018 (see GSN, April 14, 2010).

Another effort that would see less money in fiscal 2012 is the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program, which is responsible for enhancing the security of vulnerable stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapon-usable nuclear material in other countries and improving states' ability to detect the illicit trafficking of those materials. The program, which was to receive $590 million in fiscal 2011, would receive $571 million in the new budget cycle, roughly the same amount as 2010.

Yesterday, the NNSA chief dismissed any suggestion the White House was backing off its pledge to lock down all nuclear materials around 2013. His statement came after a coalition of nuclear security organizations and specialists last week called for Congress to approve all requested fiscal 2011 funds for programs aimed at safeguarding sensitive materials around the world.

"We are highly committed to the president's goal of securing material in four years. Period. Bar none," D'Agostino told reporters. He noted the initiative has successfully removed highly enriched uranium from 19 nations and is working with 16 additional countries to remove the last of their materials.

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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