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Senate panel votes to boost budget for national labs, WIPP

WASHINGTON – Nuclear weapons and waste programs in New Mexico are on track for budget increases next year after a key vote Thursday in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved funding for weapons work at National Nuclear Security Administration facilities – including Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories in New Mexico – from about $8.9 billion in 2017 to $10 billion next year. The Senate bill does not break out spending for individual labs.

The bill approved Thursday also contains more money for nuclear waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory, increasing spending to $217.5 million from $194 million. Meanwhile, the budget for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad, would increase to $300 million from $292 million this year.

The Senate bill rejected President Donald Trump’s own budget proposals for the Department of Energy, which includes NNSA. For example, Trump’s budget and a version approved by the House last week would cancel the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which conducts cutting-edge energy research. The Senate bill not only includes the funding but would set it at a record $330 million in 2018.

The House and Senate are expected to reconcile the different bills into one spending blueprint for the Department of Energy and water projects at the Army Corps of Engineers later this year.

 Sen. Tom Udall

Sen. Tom Udall

Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the powerful committee and was among the senators voting to approve the 2018 spending proposal in Thursday’s 30-1 vote, said the bill “makes critical investments in New Mexico’s economy.”

“The essential, cutting-edge work that New Mexicans do at our national labs and Department of Energy installations helps keep this country safe and drives our state’s economy,” Udall said.

Udall said the Senate spending bill includes full funding for life extension projects for nuclear weapons maintained at New Mexico’s national labs, including the B61 and W80. The bill also includes $98 million for a new NNSA complex in Albuquerque.