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– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
Kingston Reif

Nuclear Security Funding Cuts in Future


May 2019
By Kingston Reif

For the third year in a row, the Trump administration is proposing to reduce funding for core U.S. nuclear security and nonproliferation programs at the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The fiscal year 2020 budget request has prompted concerns from experts and lawmakers who have warned of persistent threats of nuclear terrorism and diminishing international attention to nuclear security.

Workers load a cask of spent highly enriched uranium removed from a Vietnamese research reactor into a container bound for Russia. The Trump administration is seeking to reduce financial support for the Energy Department's nonproliferation efforts. (Photo: Sando Tozser/IAEA)Even NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty suggested that the submission is insufficient, telling a congressional committee last month that she would gladly take additional funds above the budget request “to secure more nuclear materials around the world because that’s nuclear materials that are less likely to fall in the hands of terrorists or adversaries.”

The Trump administration is asking for $1.3 billion for core nuclear security and nonproliferation programs at the NNSA next year, a decrease of about $100 million, or 7 percent, from the fiscal year 2019 appropriation.

When measured against what the NNSA said it would request for these programs during the last year of the Obama administration, the fiscal year 2020 proposal is more than $200 million less than projected.

The largest proposed reduction in the request is to the Global Material Security program, which has the task of improving the security of nuclear materials around the world, securing orphaned or disused radiological sources, and strengthening nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence. The program would get $342 million, a $65 million reduction from the fiscal year 2019 appropriation.

According to budget documents, the decline from the enacted level reflects “a return to the baseline budget” after one-time increases from Congress in fiscal year 2019 to programs addressing domestic and international radiological material security and nuclear smuggling.

Asked at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on April 9 what the NNSA could do with an additional $80 million for international nuclear security programs, Gordon-Hagerty said the agency could acquire additional cesium blood irradiators, undertake “additional training around the world,” and help other countries with “security installations.”

The Material Management and Minimization program, which supports the removal of civilian highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium around the world and converts HEU-fueled research reactors and medical isotope production facilities to the use of low-enriched uranium, would receive $334 million, a decrease of $59 million from the fiscal year 2019 appropriation.

The budget request would increase funding slightly for nonproliferation and arms control activities from a fiscal year 2019 appropriation of $130 million to $137 million. Spending for nonproliferation research and development activities, which focus on technologies used in tracking foreign nuclear weapons programs, illicit diversion of nuclear materials, and nuclear detonations, would rise to $495 million from its $477 million fiscal year 2019 appropriation.

Experts and lawmakers are questioning the wisdom of the proposed reductions in funding for NNSA nuclear and radiological security activities.

A policy brief from Harvard University’s Managing the Atom Project published in April argued that the “budget request for programs to reduce the dangers of nuclear theft and terrorism is too small to implement the ambitious approach that is needed.”

Although past U.S. efforts to improve nuclear security around the world have been highly successful, the brief notes, “momentum is slowing, raising serious doubts as to whether national leaders are fulfilling their commitment to continue to make nuclear security a priority.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the chairwoman of the House energy and water appropriations subcommittee that oversees the NNSA’s nuclear weapons and nonproliferation work, expressed concern at an April 2 hearing on the NNSA budget request “that the administration is taking its foot off the gas pedal with respect to key nonproliferation programs.”

During the first two years of the Trump administration, Congress provided almost $300 million more than what the administration requested for core NNSA nuclear security and nonproliferation programs.

Elsewhere in the NNSA nonproliferation budget, the administration is requesting $220 million to close down the controversial mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel facility and $79 million to support an alternative strategy to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, March 2019.)

The MOX fuel facility, designed to turn the surplus material into fuel for civilian power reactors, has been plagued by major cost increases and schedule delays. The Energy Department has sought to end the program since 2014 in favor of
a cheaper alternative, known as dilute and dispose. That process would down-blend the plutonium with an inert material for direct disposal at the deep-underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

The NNSA estimated last year that the dilute-and-dispose process would cost $19.9 billion, or 40 percent of the $49.4 billion cost of continuing the MOX fuel program.

Trump pursuing cuts to U.S. nuclear security, nonproliferation programs.

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New Report Highlights Costs of and Alternatives to Trump's Nuclear Weapons Spending Plans

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For Immediate Release: April 12, 2019

Media Contacts: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

(Washington, D.C.)–A new report from the Arms Control Association describes how the mounting costs of the Trump administration’s plans to replace the U.S. nuclear arsenal are unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe.

The report comes as Congress considers the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget request for national defense and amid growing concern about the rising price tag of the nuclear spending plans, the Trump administration’s proposals for more usable nuclear capabilities, and the crisis in the U.S.-Russian arms control relationship.

The report assesses options to reduce spending on nuclear weapons that would save as much as $300 billion over the coming 30 years, while still maintaining a devastating nuclear force that can deter nuclear attack by any adversary.

“The United States maintains a larger and more diverse nuclear arsenal than is required to deter and respond to a nuclear attack against itself or its allies,” said Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association. “The simple fact is that the planned spending to maintain and replace the arsenal will pose a significant affordability problem, and threaten other national security priorities,” he noted.

The United States currently plans to spend nearly $500 billion, after including the effects of inflation, to maintain and replace its nuclear arsenal over the next decade. Over the next 30 years, the price tag is likely to top $1.5 trillion and could even approach $2 trillion.

The new report, U.S. Nuclear Excess: Costs, Risks, and Alternatives, outlines the Trump administration’s nuclear spending plans, explains why they are financially untenable and potentially destabilizing, and assesses three less expensive alternatives to the plans.

The alternatives analyzed in the report would free up at least an estimated $29 billion to $282 billion from fiscal year 2017 to 2046 that could be spent on more pressing national security priorities. The bulk of these savings would occur over the first 20 years of the 30-year period.

“Changes to the nuclear replacement program could make it easier to execute and ease some of the hard choices facing the overall defense enterprise, while still leaving a force more than capable of deterring nuclear attacks against the United States or its alliance partners,” Reif added.

The report urges Congress to take steps to enhance its understanding of the budget challenges posed by the spending plans and the policy assumptions underlying them. These include:

  • holding in-depth hearings on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and spending;
  • requesting a National Intelligence Estimate on the sufficiency of the U.S. nuclear arsenal; and
  • calling for a report on the cost of the Pentagon’s major nuclear and non-nuclear acquisition programs over the next 20 years.

The Arms Control Association has repeatedly raised concerns about the need and affordability of the nuclear weapons spending plans, argued that these plans pose a threat to other military priorities, and suggested more cost-effective alternatives. The new report released Friday builds upon a 2014 Arms Control Association report titled The Unaffordable Arsenal: Reducing the Costs of the Bloated U.S. Nuclear Stockpile.

Description: 

The report outlines the Trump administration’s nuclear spending plans, explains why they are financially untenable and potentially destabilizing, and assesses three less expensive alternatives to the plans.

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