On April 26 the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up and approved its version of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Energy and Water bill. You can read the full Committee report here. For an overview of the House bill, see our analysis from last week here.
The Senate bill recommends $11.51 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an increase of $511 million above the FY 2012 appropriated level.
Rightly unimpressed with the administration’s underwhelming (to put it nicely) budget request for core nuclear material security programs, Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Ranking Member Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) increased funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (INMPC) program by a combined total of $130 million over the request. House appropriators also increased funding for these programs, though not by nearly as much as the Senate. In addition, the Senate removed the $150 request for USEC from the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account. Suffice it to say that bipartisanship is alive and well on Capitol Hill – at least when it comes to robust support for nuclear material security. The administration ought to think twice about submitting such an imbalanced request for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account in the future.
On the weapons side, the Committee, like the House, fully funded the administration’s request of $7.577 billion, while expressing grave concern with NNSA’s poor project management record. And like the House mark, the appropriation includes no funds for the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos. Together with the House appropriation, which also funds weapons activities at the requested level, the Senate mark provides a strong rejoinder to those who argue that the capabilities necessary to maintain the safety, security, and effectiveness of the stockpile are not being adequately funded. Indeed, it’s striking that both the Senate and House provided increases to core nuclear terrorism prevention activities, which combat one of the most urgent national security threats to the United States, while funding weapons activities at the requested level.
Below are some highlights of the Senate bill…
Nuclear Material Security and Non-Proliferation
The Senate bill fully funds the FY 2013 request of $2.549 billion for NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account. However, it made some significant changes within the account.
The bill provides $539 million for GTRI, an increase of $73 million over the FY 2013 budget request. The biggest increase is for the HEU reactor conversion program, which received at $40 million plus-up over the requested level. The Committee notes that the original request would have delayed by 3 years NNSA’s stated goal of converting or shutting down 200 research reactors around the world by 2022. The increased funding would put NNSA back on track to meet its original goal. In another encouraging outcome, the bill provides increased funding for radiological security and removal programs.
The Senate also increased the Second Line of Defense program within INMPC, which seeks to prevent nuclear smuggling by installing radiation detectors at airports, border crossings, and seaports, by $54 million above the requested level. NNSA’s FY 2013 request slashed the budget for this program by $171 million (or 65%). The Committee concluded that “a cut of this magnitude would not be sufficient to sustain already deployed systems, retain expert personnel, and meet international obligations to deploy additional radiation detection systems.”
In addition, the Senate raised alarm bells about the budget request’s inclusion of $150 million for the US Enrichment Corporation (USEC) within the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Account. Instead, the Committee authorized the Secretary of Energy to transfer up to $150 million in NNSA funds to further develop and demonstrate the technical feasibility of domestic national security-related enrichment technologies. The report recommends transfer authority across all of NNSA “because the primary justification for investing in indigenous uranium enrichment technology is to provide a secure fuel supply of low enriched uranium for tritium production— a program funded under nuclear weapons activities—and to meet future needs of highly enriched uranium for nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines—a program funded under naval reactors.”
Finally, unlike the House, which reduced the funding request for the MOX program by over $150 million, the Senate bill funds MOX at the requested level. However, it expresses great concern with the overall management of the program, specifically the project’s out-of-control cost growth and schedule delays.
Nuclear Weapons Activities
The Senate Appropriations Committee funds weapons activities at the requested level of $7.577 billion, an increase of $363 million over last year’s level. The Committee report states that its “recommendation would fund all of the highest-priority activities for nuclear weapons modernization.”
On the CMRR-NF, the Senate report chastises NNSA for not providing the Committee with an alternative plutonium strategy in the absence of the facility. The Committee “directs NNSA to submit a comprehensive plutonium strategy by October 15, 2012 that assesses needed plutonium research requirements for nuclear weapons stockpile activities and other plutonium missions.” In the meantime, the Committee provides approximately $195 million “to sustain pit sustainment and pit manufacturing capabilities and move toward a new strategy.”
The report also expresses concern about the B-61 life extension program, stating “that no funding be used for B61 life extension program activities until NNSA submits to the Committee a validated cost, schedule, and scope baseline.”
In light of these problems, that report highlights NNSA’s terrible record of project management, noting that “All of NNSA’s major construction projects exceed the initial cost estimates.” “An even greater concern,” the report states “is NNSA’s inability to adequately assess alternatives, including the use of existing facilities, before embarking on multi-billion dollar projects.” In an effort to prevent the situation from continuing to spiral out of control, the Committee asks GAO to conduct “a root cause assessment of project management.” It also directs NNSA “to submit a report every 6 months on October 1 and April 1, with the first report due on October 1, 2012, on the status of major projects, such as construction projects and life extension programs, which are estimated to cost a minimum of $750,000,000. The report shall include, among other things, the name of the project, a brief description of the mission need, a brief summary of project status, the baseline cost or expected cost range and contingencies, expected completion date, scope of work, and an explanation of changes, if any, to cost, schedule, scope, or contingencies.”
The future of the FY 2013 Energy and Water bill is uncertain, but some in the Senate and House believe the bill could hit the Senate and House floor in mid-May. Stay tuned.