During the week of April 23 the Senate and House Appropriations Committees approved their respective versions of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations bill. The bill funds the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) core nuclear material security and nonproliferation activities, which are housed in the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account. The bill also funds NNSA’s nuclear weapons activities. Click here for a copy of the Senate report; click here for a copy of the House report.
The bottom line: Bipartisanship is alive and well on Capitol Hill – at least when it comes to robust support for nuclear material security.
Both the House and Senate bills increase funding above the Obama administration’s requested level for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), the key program in the effort to secure all vulnerable materials around the world at an accelerated rate. The FY 2013 budget request for GTRI was $32 million less than the FY 2012 enacted level, and revealed big delays in some critical scheduled activities in the outyears, such as the conversion of research reactors around the world that use highly enriched uranium to use low enriched uranium, which cannot be used in a nuclear weapon. The Senate bill added $73 million above the request; the House bill added approximately $17 million.
The Senate bill also boosts funding for the International Nuclear Materials Protection (INMPC) account by $57 million above the requested level, primarily to restore funding to INMPC’s Second Line of Defense program, which was dramatically reduced from last year. The Second Line of Defense program installs radiation detectors and other equipment to detect the illicit trafficking of weapons of mass destruction at border crossings, airports, and seaports around the world.
Senate Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and House Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Pete Visclosky (D-IN) deserve credit for prioritizing NNSA’s core nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs, which keep our nation safe from the threat of nuclear terrorism. The increases proposed by the House were particularly noteworthy, since the House reduced funding for GTRI and INMPC from the request the previous two fiscal years.
In addition, both bills scaled back the administration’s one-time request of $150 million for USEC to further develop and demonstrate the technical feasibility of domestic national security-related enrichment technologies, which does not contribute to the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials and could actually undermine US nonproliferation objectives. This funding was included in the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account despite the fact the technology is aimed at meeting the needs of programs funded in different parts of the NNSA budget. The House decreased the request by $50 million while the Senate removed the program from the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account entirely, instead authorizing the Secretary of Energy to transfer up to $150 million in NNSA funds for the project.
The House bill also reduced the administration’s request for the controversial Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program by $153 million below the requested level of $888 million. The MOX program is part of the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account even though it isn’t a core nuclear terrorism prevention program. The program continues to be 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. Though the Senate funded MOX at the requested level, it raised concerns about NNSA’s management of the program.
For a detailed review of the funding levels for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, click here for our handy chart.
The two bills now go to the House and Senate floor, perhaps as soon as the week of May 7. The intent of the two subcommittee chairs, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and the ranking members is to finish the House-Senate conference on a final bill, which will iron out whatever differences exist between the two bills, by the week of July 30. They may be delayed by the larger budget politics that will impact all the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2013.