Morning Briefing - February 13, 2018
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February 13, 2018

White House Requests 20% Increase for NNSA Weapons Programs in FY19

By ExchangeMonitor

The Donald Trump administration on Monday proposed what would amount to a $2-billion-a-year raise for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) — a roughly $15-billion fiscal 2019 budget request that would accelerate existing nuclear-warhead refurbishment programs and consider making warhead cores somewhere other than New Mexico.

The Department of Energy’s fiscal 2019 budget request also continues the administration’s plan — which so far Congress has blocked — to cancel the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The White House asked for $220 million to wind down the mixed Oxide project: a 34 percent reduction from the current construction budget. In parallel, the administration proposed a sharp increase to develop a yet-unfunded alternative means of fulfilling its plutonium-disposal mission: $59 million, up sharply from the $9 million requested but not yet appropriated for 2018.

On a telephone briefing with reporters, acting NNSA Administrator Steve Erhart said the agency wants to use the Los Alamos National Laboratory to produce about 30 plutonium pits — fissile nuclear weapons cores — per year. However, the Pentagon needs 80 pits a year by 2030, and the NNSA is “looking at alternatives” to Los Alamos for those other 50 pits.

The Energy Department had not released the NNSA’s annual budget justification at deadline Monday for Weapons Complex Morning Briefing. That lengthy document would contain many more details than what DOE included in press releases and briefings Monday. Among other things, Erhart has previously said the 2019 request would contain additional specifics about new low-yield submarine-launched warheads called for in the new Nuclear Posture Review released earlier this month.

Overall, the administration requested over $15 billion a year for the NNSA in fiscal 2019, which begins on Oct. 1: more than 16 percent above what the agency has gotten under a series of stopgap budget bills that have funded the federal government for more than four months in fiscal 2018. This year’s proposed increase is about 6-percent higher even than the billion-dollar boost the Trump administration proposed last May for the current budget year.

The NNSA’s Weapons Activities account would get almost every additional penny of that extra money That account, which handles warhead modernization, production of special nuclear materials, and storage of excess warheads, would see its budget rise about 20 percent to some $11 billion a year, if the requested budget becomes law. Directed Stockpile Work, which funds all four of the NNSA’s ongoing warhead modernization programs, would get a 40-percent boost to more than $4.5 billion in fiscal 2019.

The Trump administration’s proposed increases for the NNSA would raise the budget for the semiautonomous DOE agency’s weapons programs much faster than the Barack Obama administration envisioned in 2016, when it submitted its final NNSA budget request.