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Obama budget boosts NM labs

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s nuclear weapons programs would get a big budget boost under a federal spending proposal unveiled by the Obama administration Tuesday, but nonproliferation programs are headed for deep cuts if the president gets his way.

The fiscal 2015 budget for nuclear weapons design and maintenance, which funds work at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, is slated for a 7 percent increase, with the possibility of an even bigger increase if Congress goes along with budget adjustments proposed by the administration.

A big chunk of the increase comes at the expense of nuclear nonproliferation work done by the National Nuclear Security Administration, the federal agency that oversees the labs. The bulk of the nonproliferation cut will hit a South Carolina program to dispose of surplus nuclear materials.

Weapons spending would total $8.3 billion, a $534 million increase over the current year’s budget, while the request for nonproliferation is $1.4 billion, down $399 million from this year.

Beyond those base budget numbers, the Obama administration submitted a supplemental spending package that would require Congress to modify previously adopted spending caps. If Congress approves, that would bump total nuclear weapons spending to $8.8 billion, a 13 percent increase over the current year.

The budget numbers are suggestions that the president sends to Congress annually. In the months ahead, the House and Senate will reconcile his requests with their own priorities before sending Obama final spending bills that he can sign into law or veto.

At a budget briefing with reporters in Washington, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said it was challenging to find money for a 7 percent increase in the nuclear weapons budget.

“That was not easily come by in these constrained times,” Moniz said. “We had to make this investment in order to stick to this program in all of its areas – the (weapons) life extension programs, the rebuilding of infrastructure and the continuation of the science and engineering base that we will need for certification in the long term.

“When all is said and done, our key responsibility here is to certify the safe and reliable stockpile without testing as long as we have nuclear weapons,” Moniz added.

Moniz said the budget would ensure that the B-61 bomb Life Extension Project, a key program for Sandia, would remain “essentially on schedule.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he was relieved to see budget boosts for the B61 and the stockpile stewardship program in New Mexico. Udall said the money “will enable important work to continue at Sandia and Los Alamos national labs and help keep our nation’s stockpile safe, secure and effective.”

Moniz conceded that he was disappointed in cuts to nonproliferation programs.

“Nuclear nonproliferation, I’m afraid, is not such a great story,” he told reporters. “It’s frankly disappointing that we have such a substantial reduction this year. However, I do want to emphasize this will continue to be a very robust program. It’s had a lot of success over these last years.”

The increase in the nuclear weapons budget, at the expense of nonproliferation work, drew widespread criticism from advocates of nuclear weapons reductions. Greg Mello of the Albuquerque-based Los Alamos Study Group noted that the request, in inflation-adjusted terms, is greater than the Cold War spending peak in 1985, during the Reagan administration. “It’s not necessary,” Mello said in an interview Tuesday.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, while praising the president’s budget generally, said he was worried about parts of the labs’ budgets.

“I do have some concerns with funding levels for the national labs,” he said. “While funding for environmental cleanup remains steady, reductions to general science research are troubling. I will continue to advocate for these areas that help ensure our labs remain a key component in U.S. competitiveness, job creation, and national security.”

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