Nuclear Weapons

2011 Budget: Analysis of the 10% increase in nuclear weapons funding

Funding for nuclear weapons programs next year is now being proposed at about $7 billion — a 10% increase from last year. Released yesterday, the Fiscal Year 2011 budget for the Department of Energy increases funding for nuclear weapons activities by $661 million and increases funding for defense nuclear non-proliferation by $550 million, an artificially high number that includes other programs.

Though the president has often spoken of the long-term national security goal of achieving a nuclear weapons free world, this budget sends the wrong message to the international community by investing so heavily in the nuclear weapons complex. Most disturbing is the fact that facilities that would enable the U.S. to increase its capacity to create new nuclear weapons in the future received large funding increases. Funding for the dismantlement of nuclear weapons actually decreased. As a major international conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) approaches in May, it will be hard for the U.S. to be able demonstrate it is fulfilling its disarmament obligations with this kind of budget. Showing progress toward disarmament will be critical to winning the support of the international community for greater non-proliferation measures.

The White House offered an early preview of the rationale behind the budget last week, with an OpEd by Vice President Joe Biden in the Wall Street Journal stating:

For as long as nuclear weapons are required to defend our country and our allies, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal. The president’s Prague vision is central to this administration’s efforts to protect the American people—and that is why we are increasing investments in our nuclear arsenal and infrastructure in this year’s budget and beyond.

Ensuring the nuclear weapons arsenal is safe and secure certainly makes sense, and each year the stockpile has been certified to be in good working order. However, the types of infrastructure investments made in this budget seem to have less to do with that goal and more to do with the need to gain the votes of 8 Republican Senators in order to ratify upcoming nuclear weapons treaties. It’s hard to say if the budget’s nuclear pork for new facilities will satisfy the weapons labs and Republicans. In December, 41 senators (all Republicans and Independent Joe Lieberman) sent a letter to Obama stating that “modernization” of our nuclear arsenal (read new nuclear weapons) are needed. Though the budget invests in the infrastructure that creates the capacity for new nuclear weapons, no explicit funding was giving for a new nuclear weapon program like the Reliable Replacement Warhead. The Kansas City Star reports:

Some experts said the administration apparently is hoping its plan to boost spending on nuclear weapons will persuade enough Republicans to join Democrats in ratifying the new treaty with Russia and a global ban on underground testing known as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty….

Iran and North Korea, however, could argue that the plan contradicts Obama’s pledge to cut the U.S. arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world in their campaigns to blunt U.S.-led efforts to halt their nuclear programs.

Other countries could see increased U.S. spending for nuclear weapons as backsliding by Obama, whose strategy helped win him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

“The tightrope the president has to walk is to put in enough funding to ensure everyone that the weapons will remain safe, secure and effective, but not so much that it looks like a new arms buildup,” said Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation that underwrites arms control programs. “There is no question that some counties, friends and foes, will see the increased spending as a sign of U.S. hypocrisy.”

Below is a breakdown of some of the main programs in the administration’s proposed budget to keep an eye on as Congress begins debating what to fund.

Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR) – Funding increase to $225 million, up from $97 million in 2010.

The new CMRR facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico would allow for increased plutonium pit production — the bomb cores of nuclear weapons. A few years ago, President Bush unsuccessfully sought to increase plutonium pit production capacity from its current levels to up to 125 pits per year. The Department of Energy continued to push for a pit production capacity of 50-80 pits per year instead of the current capacity of 20 pits per year. The new CMRR would allow for this increased pit production capacity, creating the capability in the future to churn out new pits for new weapons.

Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) – Funding increase to $115 million, up from $94 million in 2010

The UPF facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee is a uranium manufacturing facility that could increase warhead production capacity. Total costs for UPF and CMRR could climb to more than $3 billion each (though officially the costs are still “to be determined”), with large increases over the next 4 years.

Dismantlement of nuclear weapons – Funding cut from $96 million in 2010 down to $58 million for FY 2011.

Strangely, as a new treaty between the U.S. and Russia on nuclear weapons reductions is being finalized, funding for dismantling nuclear weapons we no longer need has been cut by roughly one-third.

Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation – Funding increase to $2.7 billion, a 25.8 percent increase from 2010

At first glance, this seems like a big increase until you dig a little deeper and see that $217 million of the increase actually goes to a program that funds a mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication plant in South Carolina, not nuclear nonproliferation. While there is still an increase for nuclear nonproliferation programs, it’s not quite as much as a bump as we would hope.

Securing loose nuclear material worldwide is one of the smartest investments we can make to keep America and the global community safe from the threat of nuclear terrorism. President Obama has talked about his goal of securing vulnerable nuclear material and weapons within four years and will be convening a summit in April to discuss nuclear security.

B61 Study on Life Extension Program (LEP) – Funding increases to $251 million from $32 million in 2010

Funding for this program now makes little sense. The B61 gravity bomb, a tactical nuclear weapon, is currently only deployed in Europe, where a number of our NATO allies have recently begun to question whether or not it is actually needed. The foreign ministers of Sweden and Poland made the case in a New York Times Op-Ed this week arguing for the elimination of tactical nuclear weapons on the way to a nuclear weapons free world. If Europe no longer wants tactical nuclear weapons, why bother spending money on a study for extending the life of the B61?

Kansas City Plant – This facility is transitioning from being government funded to privately funded in the future

Groundbreaking is expected in April (just before the NPT Review Conference that begins May 3) for a major new production facility, the Kansas City Plant (KCP), in Missouri. KCP will be responsible for 85% of all nonnuclear components used in nuclear weapons.

Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amagill/ / CC BY 2.0

8 replies »