Analysis: Funding Reductions for Nuclear Non-Proliferation

By Greg Terryn and Angela Canterbury

For the second year in a row, lawmakers cut funding for programs essential to the United States’ fight against nuclear terrorism. Responsible for monitoring, securing, and removing at-risk radioactive material, nuclear non-proliferation programs limit the ability of rogue states and terrorist organizations to obtain the catalysts for a nuclear weapon or weapon of mass destruction. Reductions in funding for these programs, and the flagging cooperation with Russia, could mean back-tracking on hard-fought nuclear security gains.

In the final appropriations bill passed by Congress for Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15)—the so-called “Cromnibus”—the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) was appropriated $1.6 billion for nuclear non-proliferation programs tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and materials. While this is a slight increase above the Obama Administration’s request (if $61 million can be considered slight), it is actually a $337 million reduction in spending from FY14. This increase also is misleading, since it doesn’t actually increase national or global security. The funds appropriated by Congress reflect different priorities, including an absence of funding for Russian nuclear security cooperation and extra emphasis on the contested Mixed-Oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel program—“the fuel to nowhere.”

The NNSA, through the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, administers several non-proliferation programs, each working to mitigate nuclear threats. The programs (detailed below) facilitate collaboration with international partners and other US agencies to better secure, monitor, and dispose of vulnerable nuclear material (military and civilian) and other radiological waste.

Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI): FY15: $325,752,000

FY14 Difference: -$116.4 million

The Global Threat Reduction Initiative works to reduce and protect vulnerable nuclear and radiological material located around the globe. Funding allocated to GTRI will be used to install security upgrades at nuclear research reactors and radiological facilities abroad, to remove and dispose of excess nuclear and radiological waste, and to secure all domestic Category I (the most potentially dangerous) nuclear material in the United States by the end of 2016. Requests for projects in Russia ($25 million) did not receive funding from lawmakers.

In its decade of activity, GTRI has removed or confirmed the disposition of more than 5.1 tons of nuclear materials—enough for 205 nuclear weapons—from inadequately protected facilities. GTRI has also upgraded the security of over 1,700 buildings containing highly radioactive materials around the world, removed over 36,000 sources of radiological material from ill-protected locations in the United States, and completely removed nuclear materials from 16 countries and Taiwan. In addition, GTRI has assisted in transitioning 49 research reactors from proliferation-threat high enriched uranium fuel to low-enriched uranium fuel, or to a complete shutdown. Maintaining this program and continuing to secure potentially dangerous materials around the world should be a budget priority in FY16. (Source:

Research and Development (R&D): FY15: $393,401,000 FY14 Difference: – $5.4 million

FY14 Difference: – $5.4 million

NNSA’s R&D program is responsible for improving the technology and capabilities of the United States’ detection and identification of nuclear detonations and tests, foreign nuclear weapons development programs, and the diversion of nuclear materials. By developing the next generation of monitoring and detection for nuclear testing and smuggling, the Office of Research and Development improves the US’ ability to support and verify arms control treaties. While funding for R&D is above the Obama administration’s request of $360.8 million, the FY15 account is still $5 million below FY14.

International Materials Protection and Cooperation (IMPC): FY15: $270,911,000

FY14 Difference: -$148.7 million

The IMPC is tasked with securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world via a two-tiered strategy of safeguarding nuclear materials and warheads at their source and by installing fixed detection equipment at vulnerable border crossings, airports, and seaports. The large reduction in this budget is reflective of paused nuclear security efforts between Russia and the United States; a $66 million request for Russian projects was not authorized. The funds that were appropriated are to be used to secure and monitor nuclear material in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Romania, Belarus, Jordan, and to expand work in high threat areas in the Middle East.

Fissile Material Disposition (FMD): FY15: $430,000,000

FY14 Difference: -$96.1 million

FMD is responsible for the safe and secure disposal of highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium. These efforts facilitate the fulfillment of United States disarmament treaty obligations, and also help to facilitate the down-blending of former USSR nuclear materials in Russia.

While the FMD program was funded at nearly $120 million over the Obama Administration’s request, not all of the funding for this program is directly related to nonproliferation efforts. $345 million, or about 80%, of the FMD budget will fund programming and construction costs for the further research and development of a Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility.

MOX, a mixed nuclear fuel composed of both uranium and plutonium, has been considered a sink-hole for non-proliferation funding. While proponents consider it an effective way to utilize plutonium stockpiles from the Cold War, the Center and other analysts consider MOX too expensive to be economically competitive and a greater proliferation risk because of its use of plutonium. Currently, there are no customers for this fuel. In any case, the additional funding above the administration’s request reflects a prioritization of nuclear fuel development domestically, but does not mitigate the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Nonproliferation and International Security (NIS): FY15: $141,359,000

FY14 Difference: + $12.7 million

The mission of NIS is to ensure that the United States’ safeguards and security policy is adapted to evolving proliferation and terrorism threats. This program develops and implements safeguard technology on nuclear material, facilitates cooperation on controlling transfers of nuclear technology and materials, verifies nuclear reductions, ensures transparency in negotiations, and improves further policies for implementing effective nonproliferation strategy around the globe. Increases to this program are a welcome sign of valuing non-proliferation work, and a silver lining in an otherwise inadequate nonproliferation budget.

Note: All numbers in thousands. “Total Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation” also accounts for pensions and prior-year balances. Source 

The $337 million reduction in the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation budget could be the result of a number of factors including the tough budgetary climate and current limited engagement with Russia. But regardless of international tensions or political priorities, nuclear security efforts are essential to the safety and preservation of the United States and its allies and cannot be allowed to fall by the wayside. In spite of unfriendly ties between the United States and Russia, we must preserve the nuclear security infrastructure and continue to find ways to cooperate to secure nuclear materials.

In August of 2014, a bipartisan group of 26 senators sent a letter to the Obama administration, urging increased support for vital nonproliferation programs. While the appropriations process resulted in a small increase from the administration’s request, the overall desire to protect and preserve these vital programs went unanswered.

The President’s budget request for FY16 is expected to be released on February 2, 2015. We hope to see a reprioritization of nuclear security in this budget, improving US and global security against nuclear terrorism and preventing further backslide in non-proliferation efforts.