by Kingston Reif
On October 6 House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) sent a letter signed by the Republican members of the Subcommittee to Senate appropriators asking that they fully fund the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 request for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) weapons activities account. Turner also sent a letter to the Supercommittee with the same message.
Others have already rebutted many of Turner’s arguments. One area that deserves further exploration, however, is the issue of where exactly money to offset reductions in weapons funding would come from.
Given the current budget situation, the unintended consequence of seeking more money for weapons activities is that every additional dollar that is added to this account could put the budget for vital nuclear terrorism prevention and nonproliferation programs at risk. Such a result would be reckless and undermine U.S. security.
In his letter Turner implies that additional money for weapons modernization could be found if only appropriators hadn’t used water projects as a bill payer. But as one Senate aide put it to the Hill’s John Bennett, “There’s no way to take money from water to weapons or vice versa under the Budget Control Act [aka the debt limit deal]….There is a hard wall between those two pots of money.”
Recall that the budget control act called for separate caps on discretionary security spending (which includes NNSA, Defense and State and Foreign Operations, among others) and non-security spending. Could the Senate look to one or more of the other security accounts to find money for NNSA? Perhaps (State and Foreign Operations could be an inviting target for some Republicans), but the specific allocations for each account were carefully crafted under the parameters set out by the Budget Control Act, which requires a $4 billion reduction in security spending relative to FY 2011.
If these toplines don’t change, the only real option is to look for funds in the other accounts within NNSA, which in addition to weapons activities include naval reactors, defense nuclear nonproliferation, and the office of the administrator. Rep. Turner and his colleague are unlikely to support cuts to naval reactors, since it is tasked with the design of the reactor for the follow-on to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. Likewise the Office of the Administrator is an implausible option because the budget request was small ($450 billion) and the Senate bill already cut it by 10%.
That leaves the defense nuclear nonproliferation account.
The Senate Appropriations Committee appropriated $2.383 billion for this account, an increase of $110 million (or 4.8%) above the FY 2011 enacted level. The Senate appropriation is $167 million below the President’s FY 2012 request of $2.55 billion. See here for our detailed analysis of the Committee’s action.
Most of the activities in this account support vital U.S. nuclear terrorism prevention and nonproliferation objectives. For example, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) is the key program in the effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world at an accelerated rate. The Committee fully funded GTRI at the FY 2012 requested level of $508 million. It also fully funded the administration’s request of $571 million for the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (INMPC) account’s nuclear material security programs in Russia and the Second Line of Defense program to install radiation detectors and other equipment to detect the illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction at border crossings, airports, and seaports around the world.
Nearly all of the Committee’s $167 million cut to defense nuclear nonproliferation came from the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) program, which is part of the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account even though it isn’t a core nuclear terrorism prevention program. The program is plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays, and the Department of Energy has yet to receive a commitment from any utility to use the fuel. MOX could be an attractive bill payer for weapons for some Members of Congress, but further reductions in this account, though justified, are likely to face stiff resistance.
The Vital Importance of Nonproliferation Programs
Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has stated that her highest priority within NNSA was to fund nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs in support of the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. Her commitment, which was supported by Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN), reflects an overwhelming bipartisan consensus that one of the greatest threats to U.S. and international security is the threat posed by nuclear terrorism. As Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who like Turner is publicly and privately agitating in favor of reversing the cuts to weapons activities, put it in April 2010:
“I agree with President Obama when he recently wrote in the Nuclear Posture Review, ‘today’s most immediate and extreme danger is nuclear terrorism.’”
GTRI and other material security and nonproliferation programs have a remarkable track record of success. Failure to adequately fund these programs, as Congress did in FY 2011 (while weapons activities was funded at near the full request) and as the House has done in its version of the FY 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, could mean delays in converting dozens of reactors around the world that use bomb-grade highly enriched uranium to use low enriched uranium, compromise our ability to protect and eliminate radioactive materials at universities and hospitals here in the U.S. that could be used in a dirty bomb, and hold up efforts to remove dangerous highly enriched uranium from sites around the globe.
Whatever one thinks about the merits of increased funding for nuclear modernization, we should all be able to agree that Congress shouldn’t seek to ameliorate funding shortfalls for nuclear weapons by cutting funding for programs that are our first line of defense against nuclear terrorism.