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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release 5/7/09

Second of two releases from us today

Administration To Slow LANL Plutonium “Pit” Factory,

Cut Nuke Weapons Budget at LANL; Nation-wide Nuke Money Steady

Contact: Greg Mello, 505-265-1200

Albuquerque – Today the Obama Administration released its first nuclear weapons budget request (pdf) to Congress, for fiscal year (FY) 2010.  This request covers spending in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy (DOE). [1]

This budget, the Administration’s first, would keep NNSA nuclear weapons spending flat at about $6.3 to $6.4 billion (B) (prior to any inflation or deflation), from today through 2014.  It contains no major policy “re-writes” – that’s the job of the coming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), expected late this year or early next.  It does signal modest changes in emphasis. 

Significantly, this budget does not commit to building new surge production capacity for nuclear weapons components involving special nuclear materials (SNM), specifically plutonium warhead cores (“pits”), at LANL, and “secondaries” containing highly-enriched-uranium (HEU), which are made at the Y-12 site, near Oak Ridge, TN. 

Regarding the manufacture of pits, the proposed $2+ billion (B) Nuclear Facility within the broader Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), would be significantly held back under this budget.  Annual appropriations would decline from a current $97.2 million (M) to $55 M, if Congress approves what was submitted today.  In addition NNSA would essentially bar the project from beginning construction of the Nuclear Facility next year, as had been planned until recently. 

The most recent Bush budget provides a point of comparison.  In that budget, submitted 3 months ago, the CMRR was to receive $172 M in FY2010, and annual spending was to rise from there up to a quarter-billion per year by FY2012.  Today’s FY2010 request of $55 M is a little less than one-third of that number, and out-year funding is now contingent on future policy decisions.  No construction funds are provided at all, either in FY2010 or as place-holders in the out-years. 

The proposed facility for uranium processing and secondary manufacturing at Y-12, the “Uranium Processing Facility (UPF), has been set back several years.  A new (and far more modest) construction project has been proposed today that would modify and downsize existing Y-12 facilities to make them safer while the fate of any large new construction is decided.   

The delay, budgetary downsizing, and promised closer review of these two projects gives NNSA a better chance to manage the contradictions, inherited from the Bush Administration, between hopes for billions of dollars in new construction on the one hand, and maintenance of the existing workforce on the other, all within a flat budgetary ceiling.  Something had to give.  NNSA and the Obama Administration changed the balance between investing in physical infrastructure and investing in “intellectual infrastructure” slightly, towards the latter.  

Of regional New Mexico interest, nuclear weapons programs at LANL would be decreased 6% in this budget, a $93 M net decline.  Within that 6%, there are significant tweaks up and down in a number of budget lines.  

“This budget is hardly revolutionary, and certainly it is not exactly what we would prefer.  It does, however, represent more than just one step toward fiscal and management responsibility in NNSA accounts.  We’re very pleased with some of those steps, especially the more deliberate pace and intensified review of the CMRR Nuclear Facility,” said Study Group director Greg Mello. 

“The CMRR should not be built.” 

“LANL’s nuclear weapons programs need to shrink and this budget would do that – that’s another welcome change.  The proposed uranium facility in Tennessee is also ‘overkill’ in more ways than one, and the delay in that project this budget signals is another needed step.  It’s just common sense to wait before committing to these giant projects until after deciding what sort of nuclear arsenal they would have to support.

“Obama’s people have given themselves, and the country, room to breathe while they pursue more balanced disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation policies.  The changes made today don’t permanently close any doors, whereas the massive layoffs the aggressive Bush construction plans would have required would have done so.  They may not be the policies I want, and they may not yet be the policies we need, but they are a darn sight closer than the rush-to-folly approach we had until a few months ago.”


[1] Nuclear weapons spending within Department of Defense (DoD) is greater than NNSA’s but more difficult to tease out of the numerous DoD program elements in which it is found. 


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