I wrote my July Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists column on the Obama administration’s disappointing budget request for nuclear terrorism prevention programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration. Here’s an excerpt
Despite the reductions to core material security programs, NNSA officials have stated that the 2013 budget keeps the United States on track to meet the four-year goal of securing all of the planet’s vulnerable nuclear materials, though the agency has yet to publically define how it plans to measure progress toward fulfilling this objective. Administration officials have justified the reduced request primarily on the grounds that the current fiscal environment is putting extreme pressure on their budgets. They have also argued that near-term budgets are likely to continue to decrease as key removals of highly enriched uranium around the world are completed and as attention shifts to securing nuclear material security agreements from heretofore-resistant countries.
But these explanations don’t add up.
While the 2013 request for the vital Global Threat Reduction Initiative and the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program were cut by a combined $291 million, the request for the controversial mixed-oxide fuel program, which is also housed in the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account and aims to dispose of excess US weapons-grade plutonium, was ramped up by $229 million more than last year’s level. The administration showered the program with additional cash despite the fact that it is plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays, and that the Energy Department has yet to receive firm commitments from any utility to use the fuel. If budgets are tight, why did this program get such a large increase?
Moreover, NNSA gave no indications that it was planning to significantly reduce the scope of its work. As of last year, the agency planned to convert 129 highly enriched uranium research reactors by the end of 2016; yet according to this year’s budget, NNSA now plans to convert only 127 such reactors by 2017. In total, the request delays by three years the previously stated goal of converting or shutting down 200 research reactors around the world by 2022.
Read the whole thing here.