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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release 5/7/09

One of two releases from us today

Obama Administration To Release First Nuclear Weapons Budget

Few changes from Bush expected, but will momentum toward billions in new nuke factories continue despite political & fiscal uncertainties, mission doubts?


Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200

Albuquerque – Today the Obama Administration will release its first budget request to Congress covering non-entitlement government spending for fiscal year (FY) 2010.[1]  This will include spending in the Department of Energy (DOE), including its semi-autonomous internal agency the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which manages the development, production, and maintenance of U.S. nuclear warheads and bombs.

The DOE press conference will be at 12:30 pm EDT; the call-in number is 866-812-0464.

The nuclear weapons spending components of the Department of Defense (DoD) budget request will also be released today with the rest of the proposed DoD budget.

What is being released today is a request, which Congress may or may not authorize and fund in the precise form and amounts requested.  Since this is the first year of a new administration, this budget is being submitted approximately 3 months later than usual, leaving less time this fiscal year for congressional deliberation.  And since the Administration and a majority in both houses of Congress are from the same party, there is likely to be relatively broad concurrence with the President’s request.

“Today’s budget request will say more about Obama’s nuclear priorities than any of his speeches so far,” said Study Group Director Greg Mello.  “Those speeches have been largely aspirational.  That helps, but the primary way real nuclear weapons policy is made right now is through financial and program commitments.  Declared policy can be changed; multi-billion-dollar commitments are harder to change.”

Of particular interest in today’s budget is the fate of the Bush Administration’s proposals for new nuclear weapons factories, the so-called Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 site in the Oak Ridge, TN, complex.

Both projects are expected to cost at least $2 B, or at least $3 B in the CMRR case with ancillary projects included.  Both have been controversial.  In the case of the CMRR, the House has tried to delay and defund the project since its inception, with the Senate each year restoring project funding.

The CMRR is of particular interest in New Mexico.  It was selected as the government’s #1 boondoggle by Newsmax.com, and if built would exceed the cost of all other public infrastructure projects in the history of New Mexico, with the possible exception of the Interstate Highway system, by a factor of approximately six, using special construction dollar deflators.

Other details will be provided later in the day.

Background

According to a recent study, the U.S. spent more than $52 billion (B) on nuclear weapons in 2008 (see first chart, below).  Some 56%, or $29 B, was spent operating, sustaining, and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  Of this, $6.6 B was spent in NNSA’s “Weapons Activities” budget line, which funds the laboratories and production plants in the nation’s nuclear weapons complex.

 

The recent history of Weapons Activities spending is shown in the second chart (below).  Weapons Activities spending in constant dollars rose strongly for 10 years beginning in 1996, leveled out between 2005 and 2006, and has been declining since then.

 

Current NNSA nuclear weapons spending is roughly comparable to the average spending for warhead design, nuclear testing, and production during the Reagan Administration, when numerous warheads and bombs were under development and  production was proceeding at a very rapid pace.

Reagan-era spending significantly exceeded Cold War average spending; today’s spending for nuclear weapons research, development, testing, and production also greatly exceeds the Cold War average for comparable work.

At the weapons laboratories, spending greatly increased after 1995.  In the case of LANL, annual spending recently peaked at roughly three times the Cold War average in constant dollars (see graph below discussion at http://www.lasg.org/LANLecon_impact.pdf).

 




[1] We expect budget details to be available at http://www.cfo.doe.gov/crorg/prodCR.cfm [this is the updated link: http://www.energy.gov/about/budget.htm] sometime later today.  Reporters likely have received press alerts from DOE as of this writing.

*******ENDS*******


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