Obama administration asks for a nuclear weapons budget increase

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Obama administration is asking Congress to fund a 7 percent increase in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s nuclear weapons activities account in 2015, which funds much of the core work at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories in New Mexico. The total budget request for the “weapons activities” line item is $8.31 billion, up from $7.78 billion in the current fiscal year.

Among the priorities, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters in a briefing this afternoon, is money to keep refurbishment of the B61 nuclear bomb “essentially on schedule”, but defers work on the W78/88 missile warhead. The B61 is a critical program at Sandia. From the agency’s budget summary:

This revised strategy achieves the B61-12 LEP First Production Unit (FPU) by FY 2020 and completes production of the W76-1 warhead by FY 2019. The strategy defers the W78/88-1 Life Extension Program by five years.

The funding hike for nuclear weapons work is being partially offset by a major cut in nuclear non-proliferation spending – money funding work to halt the spread of nuclear weapons elsewhere in the world and dispose of surplus nuclear weapons materials here at home. Among the biggest programs there to be hit is a plant in South Carolina that was being built to dispose of surplus U.S. plutonium. The rising budget for that program simply proved too costly given current budget constraints, Moniz said.

The program, named “MOX” for the “mixed-oxide” nuclear power plant fuel it would manufacture with the old plutonium. The MOX project is part of an arms control deal with the Russians. Here’s the administration’s statement on the issue:

As part of an ongoing analysis of options to dispose of surplus plutonium, the Budget provides funding to place the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in cold standby, while NNSA evaluates alternative plutonium disposition options that will achieve a safe and secure solution more quickly and cost-effectively. The Administration remains committed to the U.S.-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement and will work with our Russian partners to achieve the goals of the agreement in a mutually beneficial manner.

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Moniz said putting the troubled MOX project on “cold standby” would cost $221 million.

The administration request to Congress is the first step in the long and torturous path to a federal budget. The package now goes to Congress.

Journal Washington correspondent Michael Coleman and I will have more details on the budget request in tomorrow’s newspaper.

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