by Kingston Reif
Summary: Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and the rest of the members of the subcommittee deserve great credit for prioritizing essential nuclear and radiological material security and nonproliferation programs. While the House cut the budget for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), the key program in the effort to secure and eliminate dangerous nuclear material worldwide at an accelerated rate, by $85 million below the administration’s FY 2012 request, the Senate fully funded it at the FY 2012 request, an increase of $72 million over the FY 2011 enacted level. The Committee should also be applauded for beginning to reign in excessive spending on nuclear weapons programs, while still providing more than enough funds to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable arsenal.
========================On September 7 the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
The full committee report can be found here. The full Senate schedule for the bill is uncertain. The bill may not be debated on the Senate floor. Final funding levels will be decided in conference between the House and Senate at some future time. Indications are that the government will by funded by a continuing resolution at FY 2011 enacted levels for at least a month, if not longer.
The Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee received an allocation of $31.625 billion, approximately $57 million below the FY 2011 enacted level, but $986 million above the FY 2012 House enacted level.
In a departure from normal practice, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) received a separate allocation of $11.05 billion, an increase of $528 million (or 5%) above the FY 2011 appropriation and an increase of $451 million above the FY 2012 House enacted level. Recall that as a result of the deal to raise the debt ceiling (also known as the Budget Control Act of 2011), Congress must find $4 billion in reductions in discretionary security spending (which includes NNSA, Defense and Homeland Security, among others) from FY 2011 enacted levels. The increase for NNSA is particularly impressive given that it was one of the few security accounts to receive an increase over last year’s levels.
Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and the rest of the members of the subcommittee deserve great credit for prioritizing NNSA’s essential nuclear and radiological material security and nonproliferation programs. While the House cut the budget for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), the key program in the effort to secure and eliminate dangerous nuclear material worldwide at an accelerated rate, by $85 million below the administration’s FY 2012 request, the Senate fully funded it at the FY 2012 request, an increase of $72 million over the FY 2011 enacted level. For a detailed review of the funding levels for FY 2011 and FY 2012, see our handy chart here.
The Committee should also be applauded for beginning to reign in excessive spending on nuclear weapons programs, while still providing more than enough funds to maintain a safe, secure, and reliable arsenal.
Nuclear Material Security and Nonproliferation
The Committee appropriated $2.383 billion for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Account, an increase of $110 million (or 4.8%) above the FY 2011 enacted level and an increase of $327 million over the FY 2012 House enacted level. The Senate appropriation is $167 million below the President’s FY 2012 request of $2.549 billion.
The Senate action follows on the heels of a $428 million cut to the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account below the administration’s request by the House, which included an $85 million cut to GTRI (Congress also cut GTRI by $123 million (or 22%) below the FY 2011 request in the final FY 2011 Continuing Resolution).
The damage to GTRI would have been worse but for a successful amendment offered by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Rep. Lorretta Sanchez (D-CA) to increase GTRI by $35 million. For more information on the House appropriation and the amendment offered by Reps. Fortenberry and Sanchez, see my analysis here and here.
Sen. Feinstein stated in her opening statement at the Committee hearing 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. To that end, the Committee fully funded GTRI at the FY 2012 requested level, including the highly enriched uranium reactor conversion and domestic radiological protection programs, the two subaccounts slashed by the House.
The Committee also fully funded 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. The House cut the Second Line of Defense program by $75 million below the FY 2012 request.
Below is an excerpt from the Committee’s report:
The Committee commends NNSA for making significant progress in meeting the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within 4 years. In 2009, the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States found that “the surest way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to deny terrorist acquisition of nuclear weapons or fissile materials . . . An accelerated campaign to close or secure the world’s most vulnerable nuclear sites as quickly as possible should be a top national priority.” To that end, since April 2009, when President Obama announced the 4-year goal, NNSA has removed over 960 kilograms of highly enriched uranium—enough material for 38 nuclear weapons. NNSA has also removed all highly enriched uranium from six countries. One of these countries was Libya. Given the recent unrest in Libya, the presence of this dangerous nuclear material in an unstable part of the world would have increased the risk of nuclear terrorism. Removing highly enriched uranium from six countries in 2 years is much faster than one country a year NNSA has averaged in the last 13 years. Further, NNSA has completed security upgrades at 32 additional buildings in Russia containing weapons usable materials. The Committee encourages NNSA to continue its accelerated efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials.
Nearly all of the Senate’s $167 million cut to the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account 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.
Overall, the Senate bill is good news for the effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and prevent nuclear terrorism. If approved, the funding level in the Senate bill will ensure that the U.S. stays on track to meet its material security and nonproliferation commitments in the lead up to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul next March without having to raid the budgets of other vital programs, such as reactor conversion.
The Committee’s action is also a good indication that it will seek to protect the budget for nuclear material security programs even as the Budget Control Act mandates reductions in security spending as a whole.
However, it remains to be seen how NNSA’s scope of work will be impacted by the fact the Belarus has pulled out of its agreement with the U.S. to remove its remaining highly enriched uranium prior to the Seoul Summit as originally agreed.
Moreover, given the uncertain appropriations picture, it is possible that the government could be funded by a Continuing Resolution for the beginning of FY 2012, if not longer, which means that the Global Threat Reduction Initiative would be funded at the inadequate FY 2011 level.
On the weapons side, the Committee appropriated $7.190 billion, an increase of $294 million over the FY 2011 enacted level and an increase of $99 million over the FY 2012 House enacted level. The appropriation is $440 million less than the President’s FY 2012 request of $7.63 billion.
The Budget Control Act no doubt influenced the Committee’s appropriation. Given the magnitude of the planned increases to NNSA’s weapons activities budget, the Committee’s mark, coupled with the House cuts to weapons activities earlier this year, suggests that the funding curve for weapons programs is more likely to flatten out as opposed to drive upwards as projected.
For a detailed breakdown of the bill’s impact on nuclear weapons programs, see Center Policy Fellow Nick Roth’s excellent analysis here. Below is a brief excerpt:
The Committee took on the Life Extension Program (LEP) for the B-61 bomb, the plan to build the Uranium Processing Facility and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility at the same time, and Scaled Experiments. The Committee’s strong language on LEPs and construction projects is a welcome surprise. These programs were a central part of the nuclear weapons funding debate that took place in the context of the consideration of the New START treaty for much of the past two years.
The Committee made it clear that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) cannot complete all of its major life extension and construction projects as planned and sustain its other activities given the current fiscal environment. Rather than move forward with multiple programs that are unlikely to be completed on time or on budget, the Senate bill provides NNSA with a good opportunity to prioritize the programs that are most essential to its primary mission, which is to maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile in the absence of nuclear testing.