Page One

How to Cut Nuclear Weapons Spending and Save $1.15 Billion (News Analysis)

By Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War
Wednesday April 06, 2011 - 01:43:00 PM

In the first days of April, Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment), the nuclear watchdog organization based in Livermore, dispatched a team to Washington to lobby for a host of targeted reductions in the US nuclear weapons budget. Tri-Valley CAREs (TVC) is working withthe Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, a coalition of nuclear watchdogs from across the country that has scheduled 100 meetings with Members of Congress, committee staff, and the Obama Administration.  


As TVC’s Executive Director Marylia Kelley explained, the goal is “to stop ill-advised proposals for nuclear weapons, power and waste…. We aim to prevent the so-called ‘modernization’ of US nuclear weapons and bomb plants. We will speak in opposition to the $36 billion in ‘loan guarantees’ that the Obama Administration’s 2012 budget requests for the nuclear industry and new nuclear power plants.” 


TVC arrived in DC armed with a detailed report prepared by Dr. Robert Civiak, a former Program Examiner for DOE nuclear security activities at the Office of Management and Budget. Civiak’s report shows how nine specific reductions (and two critical program increases) can save taxpayers $1.15 billion. The following is a distillation of the Tri-Valley CAREs (TVC) eight-page report. (For the full report, see: 


On February 14, the Department of Energy (DOE) released its FY 2012 budget request. It called for a massive increase in funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the DOE branch that oversees the US nuclear weapons complex and the atomic stockpile. This extraordinary request totally bypassed the usual scrutiny of the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB was cut out of the process months earlier, thanks to a political deal between President Obama and hawkish Republicans, led by Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona). 


In an attempt to win Republican support for Senate ratification of the New START arms control treaty with Russia, Obama offered to increase spending on America’s nuclear weapons programs by 10 percent. When Kyl signaled that a $7 billion slab of pork wasn’t enough, the President upped the ante to $7.63 billion — a 20 percent increase over FY 2010. While the Senate eventually ratified the treaty, Kyl refused to sign on. Despite this betrayal, Obama has stuck with Kyl’s $7.63 billion request. 


TVC argues that funding request “is more than $1 billion in excess of that needed to keep US nuclear weapons safe, secure, and reliable using the same ‘Stockpile Stewardship’ approach that has been used for the past two decades.” According to TVC, at least $3 billion could be saved by replacing Stockpile Stewardship with Stockpile Curatorship, “an engineering-based, surveillance and maintenance program” that replaces nuclear weapons parts only when necessary. (See: “Transforming the US Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex for Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World” at: 


Nuclear Weapons Spending Was Lower Under Ronald Reagan 

Under Obama and the Democrats, NNSA’s budget requests for its Weapons Activities has grown $1.27 billion over FY 2010 — at the same time the current US stockpile of warheads has been dramatically reduced by 80%. After accounting for inflation, the $7.63 billion request is 21 percent greater than Ronald Reagan’s largest nuclear weapons budget. (It is ironic that a Republican President was able to maintain a much larger nuclear stockpile at far less cost to the taxpayer.) 


Obama’s budget would increase Weapons Activities spending by 4 percent a year (hitting $8.9 billion by2016). Those figures come straight out of the “1251 Report” — the November 2010 mandate where Sen. Kyl set out the price tag for his support of the New START treaty. The White House plans to mask these huge increases by quietly moving $2.2 billion from the Pentagon’s Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation account into DOE’s Nuclear Weapons Activities account over the course of four years. 


Recommendations for Programs to be Reduced or Eliminated 


Life Extension Programs 

The budget requests $481million (an increase of 107 percent) for so-called Life Extension Programs (LEPs) — i.e., periodic modifications for seven types of nuclear weapons that the Nuclear Weapons Council plans to keep in the enduring stockpile. According to TVC, “life extension is a misnomer for a nearly complete rebuild and upgrade of a warhead system that is nowhere near the end of its life.” A typical LEP may see hundreds of changes made to a weapon’s design, including the addition of new components and even modification of its military characteristics. 


TVC notes that funding for LEPs and other nuclear weapons upgrades is buried throughout the budget for Directed Stockpile Work — which is set to receive nearly $2 billion -- an increase of 26 percent. Additional funds are included in the Readiness Campaign, the Science Campaign, and elsewhere. 


For example, NNSA is about half-way through a $4 billion-plus LEP on the submarine-launched W76 nuclear warhead. The “modifications” include adding a new “ground burst capability” that would be more destructive of buried targets than the previous air burst weapons. Another “Life Enhancement” would make it possible to mount the warhead on the more advanced D5 missile. 


The FY2012 budget requests $257 million for the W76 LEPs to support a production of 1,200 W76s. But that was approved before the New START treaty was negotiated. Under New START, the US will deploy only 1,070 submarine warheads, including as many as 400 of the more powerful W88 warheads. So the budget keeps NNSA on a pace to upgrade many more W76 warheads than will be under New START. 


TVC recommends: “Reducing funds for the W76 LEP by at least $150 million, slowing the pace of the program, and preventing NNSA from making unnecessary changes to W76 warheads, especially those that might soon be retired.” 


Development Engineering 

The 2012 budget also requests funds for Development Engineering on a new LEP for the B61 “family of bombs.” The B61 comes in both strategic and tactical variants, including about 180 tactical B61 bombs currently based in Europe. Because many European leaders are calling for their removal, the European-based B61s may all be retired before or soon after the LEP is completed. 


NNSA plans to modify the B61 “to enhance its margin against failure, while increasing safety and improving security and use control.” (What’s that? You assumed the current stockpile of atomic weapons was already engineered to assure safety, security and to minimize failure? Sorry to disappoint.) Yet, there is no evidence that any of these changes are necessary. NNSA’s own studies found that the plutonium and uranium parts of these weapons will last for at least another 60 years, without needing to be replaced. 


Replacements are an ongoing part of the Stockpile Systems program. NNSA spent $114 million on the B61 in 2010 and proposes spending $224 million more on the B61 LEP in 2012 — in addition to its $72 request for B61 Stockpile Systems — for a total of $296 million. The total will rise to nearly $500 million by 2016. 


TVC: “We recommend pausing the B61 LEP and rescoping it to exclude changes to plutonium or HEU parts; to change other components only if necessary to maintain the bombs at their current level of safety, security, and reliability; and to reduce the number of bombs modified in view of the potential removal of warheads from Europe.” 


The FY 2012 budget also includes $51 million to begin a Life Extension Study for the W78 warhead, currently on Minuteman missiles. NNSA is considering developing a substitute for both the W78 and the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) W88 warhead. The changes would, in effect, create a brand-new warhead. Congress voted to reject development of new warheads when it denied funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program in 2008. 


TVC: “We recommend saving $50 million by suspending the W78 LEP study, until NNSA has better informed Congress of its plans and the potential for development of a new warhead.” 


The Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement -- Nuclear Facility 

The Nuclear Facility of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement Project (CMRR- NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is the third phase of a major project to replace plutonium-testing operations and expand pit production capabilities. NNSA estimates the Nuclear Facility will cost $3.7-5.9 billion. 


The budget requests an additional $1.35 billion for CMRR-NF for 2013-2016, but the facility is not scheduled to reach full operations until 2023 — by which time it will be grossly oversized for a weapons stockpile that will likely be much smaller than it is today. 


The main plutonium facilities at LANL in Technical Area 55 (TA-55) have been extensively upgraded, with the most recent project completed in 2009. NNSA has the capacity to build 20 plutonium pits for nuclear weapons per year at that facility, which is sufficient. 


TVC: We recommend cutting $250 million from the request for CMRR-NF and using the remaining funds to plan for a much smaller facility or prepare for additional upgrades to existing facilities if necessary to satisfy safety and security requirements. 


The Uranium Processing Facility 

The budget requests $160 million — a 70% increase — to continue the design of a Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, TN. The budget requests an additional $1.24 billion for 2013-2016 to complete the design and begin construction in 2014. NNSA’s estimate of the cost of the design has increased by more than 50 percent over the past year, to $529 million. NNSA estimates the total cost of the project will be $4.2-6.5 billion. 


NNSA’s plan does not fully account for anticipated reductions in the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile by the time the facility is projected to begin operations in 2024. The UPF is much larger than necessary and it might not be needed at all. NNSA could continue operating other existing facilities. 


TVC: “We recommend cutting $100 million from the request for UPF and using the remaining funds to plan for a much smaller facility or prepare to upgrade existing facilities if necessary to satisfy safety and security requirements.” 


Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities -- Operation of Facilities 

NNSA’s budget requests $1.485 billion for Operation of Facilities in 2012 -- an increase of 11 percent over 2010 and 29 percent over 2008. NNSA claims that it needs this large increase because its infrastructure has been chronically underfunded. This claim persists even after Congress has provided over $1.5 billion in funding over the past eight years for a Facilities and Infrastructure Recapitalization Program. Moreover, the weapons complex should be shrinking in size as the number of nuclear weapons supported declines. We believe the increase in this budget line is excessive and directly results from the political deal making that set the top line funding for this year’s budget. 


TVC: “We recommend freezing the budget for Operation of Facilities at the 2010 funding level, which is still 16 percent higher than it was under in 2008, under George Bush’s Administration. That would be a reduction of $150 million from the Administration’s request.” 


Weapons Dismantlement and Disposition 

The 2012 request for Weapons Dismantlement and Disposition is $57 million -- a decrease of 41 percent from 2010. The budget states that the number of dismantlements may decrease, because they will be working on “more challenging systems” this year. We believe that addressing systems that are more challenging is a reason to increase funding, rather than reduce the number of warheads dismantled. 


TVC: “We recommend adding $50 million to the request for dismantlement, which would represent an increase of 11 percent from 2010.” 


The Kansas City Plant 

Construction has begun on a new facility to replace the Kansas City Plant (where NNSA manufactures most non-nuclear components) with a new facility 10 miles from the current site. Construction is estimated to cost $700 million, not including most of the specialized equipment. 


Funding for equipment is included in the budget, but NNSA has not requested funds for construction. Instead, NNSA has arranged for the private sector to build the plant and has agreed to lease it for 20 years at a cost of $1.2 billion — but NNSA has no appropriated funds for the purpose as is required by law. The lease payments will appear in future budgets after NNSA occupies the plant. 


TVC: “We recommend that NNSA withdraw from its contract to lease the new facility and remain in its existing facility, as we believe a new facility is not justified. Remaining in the existing Kansas City Plant, until it is no longer needed to support a shrinking nuclear weapons stockpile, is the most cost effective option for this year’s budget and in the long run.”  


Gar Smith is Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal and co-founder of Environmentalists Against War ( 



----- -----  



(Dollars in Millions: FY 2012 Appropriation) 


Los Alamos National Laboratory $1,594,000,000 (19.5% increase) 

Sandia National Laboratory $1,239,000,000 (25.3% increase) 

Lawrence Livermore National Lab $1,091,000,000 (9.2% increase) 

Y-12 Production Plant $831,000,000 (23.3% increase) 

Kansas City Production Plant * $545,000,000 (26.5% increase) 

Pantex Assembly Plant $645,000,000 (16.15 increase) 

Washington Headquarters ** $563,000,000 (178.7% increase) 

Other Sites $1,122,000,000 (-4.2% decrease) 

TOTAL $7,630,000,000 


* Omits funds to build a new home for the Kansas City Plant. 

** Funds for Headquarters will be distributed to the sites over the course of the year, further augmenting the site-by-site increases. 


----- -----  



The following table summarizes how nine program cuts and two increases would save more than $1 billion, without sacrificing the safety, security, or reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. 


W76 Life Extension Program - $150 million 

B61 Life Extension Program - $180 million 

W78 Life Extension Program - $50 million 

Chemistry and Metallurgy Research 

Replacement -- Nuclear Facility - $250 million 

Uranium Processing Facility - $100 million 

Inertial Confinement Fusion Campaign/ 

National Ignition Facility - $300 million 

Other Campaigns - $200 million 

Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities – 

Operation of Facilities - - $150 million 

National Security Applications - $20 million 

Weapons Dismantlement and Disposition + $50 million 

The Kansas City Plant + $200 million 

TOTAL SAVED: $1,150 million