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Obama Seeks More Money For Nuclear Arms, Nonproliferation

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

A cargo container with highly enriched uranium from Chile is unloaded in the United States as part of a National Nuclear Security Administration effort announced in 2010 to secure nuclear material in the South American nation from terrorists. The Obama administration has requested $2.5 billion in fiscal 2013 for NNSA initiatives to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and related materials (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo). A cargo container with highly enriched uranium from Chile is unloaded in the United States as part of a National Nuclear Security Administration effort announced in 2010 to secure nuclear material in the South American nation from terrorists. The Obama administration has requested $2.5 billion in fiscal 2013 for NNSA initiatives to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and related materials (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration photo).

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is seeking a bump in funding for programs to maintain the U.S. nuclear arsenal and to prevent the spread of atomic arms around the world, according to budget figures released on Monday (see GSN, Feb. 8).

The White House spending plan calls for the Energy Department's semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration to receive $11.5 billion in fiscal 2013, which begins on Oct. 1.

The requested funding for the nuclear agency, just shy of 5 percent above the amount allocated in the current budget, demonstrates President Obama's "commitment to a 21st century nuclear security enterprise by giving us the resources we need to take innovative approaches to seome of our greatest nuclear security challenges, make key investments in our infrastructure and revitalize our existing facilities," NNSA chief Thomas D'Agostino said in a press release.

The budget would provide $7.6 billion for NNSA efforts to "maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent," according to the spending request issued by the Management and Budget Office. That would represent a $363 million boost from the amount appropriated by Congress for this year and aligns closely to the spending level the administration first sought for fiscal 2012.

"This budget meets the goals of the Nuclear Posture Review by continuing nuclear-weapon life extension programs -- such as upgrades to the W-76 and B-61 nuclear weapons -- by improving and replacing aging facilities -- such as increasing investments in funding for the Uranium Processing Facility -- and by sustaining the existing stockpile through underlying science, surveillance, and other support programs," according to the budget document.

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was a key assessment of the nation’s nuclear strategy, forces and readiness.

The administration aims to freeze development of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement complex at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which would conduct work on materials such as plutonium employed in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Dec. 19, 2011). Recent reporting had indicated that given existing federal budget troubles, funding for the project estimated to cost up to $6 billion might be reduced or zeroed in favor of the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Complex in Tennessee.

Under the proposal, funding for the Los Alamos site would be cut by $165 million and building would be pushed back by no less than five years, the watchdog Project on Government Oversight said.

"To meet the NPR goals, but still stay within the discretionary spending caps, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Department of Defense are reducing and stretching out the schedule of several weapons life extension programs and are restructuring plans for maintaining plutonium capabilities," the budget plan states.

That means the administration is seeking $372 million less for weapons programs than it had anticipated requesting as of 2011. Republicans -- who are already speaking out against the overall White House budget offering --  might find the development difficult to swallow given the administration's pledge to spend $85 billion on nuclear arms complex modernization over a decade (see GSN, Feb. 9).

President Obama offered the pledge in 2010 as he sought GOP support for the New START nuclear arms control deal with Russia. Thirteen Republican members of the Senate voted in favor of the treaty, which entered into force in February 2011.

Meanwhile another $2.5 billion is proposed for NNSA initiatives to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and related materials. That amount, if approved, would constitute a $163 million boost from the amount allocated for this year and "reflects completion of accelerated efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials within four years," according to the budget.

"This proposal fully funds administration priorities to secure and dispose of nuclear material, to develop technologies to prevent, deter, or detect nuclear proliferation, and to implement international nonproliferation treaties, regulatory controls and safeguards," the document states.

The Energy Department expects by the close of next year to have extracted in excess of 4,300 kilograms of vulnerable nuclear material across the globe -- enough to fuel more than 170 nuclear warheads.

"The savings that make it possible to fund these priorities come from restructuring the Pit Disassembly and Conversion project and transitioning the Second Line of Defense (SLD) program to a sustainment phase," the budget says. "By the end of 2012, SLD will have exceeded its original goals, having installed radiation detection equipment at almost 500 foreign ports or crossing sites, including all 383 customs sites in Russia. SLD will continue its efforts to improve deployed capabilities and continue to provide foreign partners with mobile detection equipment."

The agency's work to disassemble retired nuclear warheads would receive $51.3 million in fiscal 2013. The full complement of weapons retired by fiscal 2009 are to be taken apart within the next 10 years, according to the NNSA press release.

The National Nuclear Security Administration would receive some funding each year through the Defense Department.

The budget says the "administration also continues its commitment to sustaining and modernizing U.S. strategic delivery systems, thus ensuring an effective deterrent in the face of evolving challenges and technological developments."

The first replacement for today's Navy fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines is to be acquired in 2021. The Pentagon said recently it would delay the program by two years (see GSN, Jan. 27).

The budget also commits Washington to "sustain the Air Force’s Minuteman 3 missile through 2030; and modernize the heavy bomber force so it can serve for the indefinite future."

In addition, the Defense Department's ballistic missile defense activities would receive $9.7 billion under the Obama budget plan.

The administration requested $328 million for the Homeland Security Department's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, a $39 million increase over its estimated total funding for this budget cycle.

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