Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Obama Budget Highlights Stockpile Work

Daniel Horner and Tom Z. Collina

The Obama administration is requesting $7.0 billion for fiscal year 2011 to maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, a rise of almost 10 percent from the $6.4 billion Congress appropriated for the effort for fiscal year 2010.

Administration officials say the increase is necessary to make up for insufficient funding over the past decade. In a Feb. 18 speech at the NationalDefenseUniversity in Washington, Vice President Joe Biden said that, under the administration’s plan, funding would increase by $5 billion over the next five years.

Biden and other officials have also linked the increase to efforts to secure Senate support for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, on the grounds that the increased funding will help maintain the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without conducting test explosions.

The boost in the fiscal year 2011 request, which was released Feb. 1, covers several categories of activities that are part of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) budget. The NNSA, which is a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, also manages nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactor programs.

Among the weapons activities, the Directed Stockpile Work category would receive $393 million of the fiscal year 2011 increase, bringing its funding to $1.9 billion. According to Energy Department budget documents, that work includes “maintenance, surveillance, evaluation, refurbishment, reliability assessment, weapon dismantlement and disposal, research, development, and certification activities.”

Much of the increase would go to the Stockpile Systems work category, whose funding would rise from $358 million to $649 million. Programs covered by the increase include those for the W76 warhead, which is used on the Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile; the W78 and W87 warheads, for the Minuteman III ICBM; the W80 warhead, used in cruise missiles; and the B83, an aircraft-delivered gravity bomb.

The largest increase would go to the B61 aircraft-delivered gravity bomb, whose funding would jump from $92.0 million to $317.1 million. Of that amount, $251.6 million, compared to $32.5 million for fiscal year 2010, would be for a “life extension study of the nuclear and non-nuclear components scope, including implementation of enhanced surety, extended service life, and modification consolidation” for the B61 Phase 6.2/6.2A, according to the Energy Department’s detailed budget justification document. The document says that one result of the study will be to “provide options and a path forward”  for Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories to work on developing “detailed designs to extend the life of the nuclear explosive package, which may include an extension of the B61 nuclear primary’s life (reusing the existing B61 nuclear pit), potential implementation of multipoint safety, and reuse or remanufacture of the canned subassembly (CSA) and for a complete life extension of the B61 -3, -4, -7, and -10, if directed by the Nuclear Weapons Council.”

According to the budget document, the NNSA plans continuing increases in the coming years for the B61, to $338 million in fiscal year 2012 and to $394 million, $438 million, and $512 million in subsequent years.

The NNSA also projects a sharply increasing funding profile for the W78, which received $48.3 million in fiscal year 2010. For fiscal year 2011, the request is $85.9 million, which includes $26.0 million for a life extension study. In the following years, the W78 would receive $105 million, $156 million, $347 million, and $345 million.

Work on the W88, a warhead used on the Trident D-5, would be funded at a lower level than in fiscal year 2010. The funding would drop from $51.9 million to $45.7 million, reflecting the “current production and surveillance schedule” for the warhead, the budget document said.

During a Feb. 1 conference call with reporters, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said the options being considered for the stockpile do not include the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, an earlier effort to design and develop a new warhead. The Bush administration supported the effort, but Congress canceled it. “RRW is dead; it’s over,” D’Agostino said.

Infrastructure Upgrades

Administration officials also have highlighted planned improvements in the infrastructure of the nuclear weapons complex. The general category covering such work, Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities, would receive $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2011, an increase of only 0.3 percent from fiscal year 2010. But specific construction projects would see sharper increases.

The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) Project at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee would receive $115 million for design and construction-related work in fiscal year 2011; the project has $94 million for fiscal year 2010. Funding would dip slightly in fiscal year 2012, to $105 million, then rise sharply over the next three years, to $190 million in 2013, $270 million in 2014, and $320 million in 2015, the document says. The UPF would support production and surveillance of highly enriched uranium components.

The budget also contains significant increases for work related to future production of plutonium pits. Funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility Replacement (CMRR) at Los Alamos would climb from $97 million to $225 million and would receive about $300 million a year for the next four years, according to the budget document. The CMRR would conduct research and development and provide other analytical support for pit surveillance and production, according to the budget document.

A related effort at Los Alamos, known as plutonium sustainment, would see a funding hike from $142 million in fiscal year 2010 to $190 million in fiscal year 2011. The increase would be focused on restoring the capability of the Plutonium Facility-4 to build up to 10 plutonium pits per year, according to the budget document. Plutonium sustainment, however, is part of Directed Stockpile Work, rather than Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities.

The budget document does not give a specific funding figure for the PF-4. In a Feb. 26 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said it is difficult to provide a specific budget number because “work performed there is funded by several programs and significant operating and facilities funding is provided by Readiness in the Technical Base and Facilities.”

During the Feb. 1 conference call, D’Agostino said the NNSA wants to have the capacity to produce 50 to 80 pits per year. LaVera said in his e-mail that if the United States “conducts any weapon refurbishment efforts that require new pits, that rate will be necessary to support the integrated refurbishment schedule of returning, disassembling and rebuilding the weapons.” He emphasized that the fiscal year 2011 budget request “does not reflect a decision to increase pit production in FY 2011.” Rather, he said, the request supports President Barack Obama’s “commitment to ensuring a modern, sustainable nuclear security enterprise that can maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent, especially as we move to a smaller stockpile.”

Dismantlement Funding Declines

One effort that would receive a funding cut in fiscal year 2011 is the work category titled Weapons Dismantlement and Disposition, whose funding would drop from $96.1 million to $58.0 million. The decline “reflects a reduction in weapons and Component/Canned Subassembly (CSA) dismantlements, associated component disposition, and some weapon specific support for the recycling, recovery, and storage of nuclear material that is a by-product of weapons dismantlement,” according to the budget document. The fall-off also “reflects a return to baseline funding after a one-time Congressional increase in FY 2010,” the document said. The effort received $52.7 million in fiscal year 2009.

During the conference call, Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak, NNSA principal deputy assistant administrator for military application, drew a distinction between the funding level and the number of warheads dismantled. The NNSA is “on track to meet [its] dismantlement commitments,” he said. Citing classification restrictions, D’Agostino and Harencak declined to give figures either for the commitments or the numbers of actual dismantlements. In his e-mail, LaVera said the NNSA remains committed to dismantling all currently retired weapons by 2022.

Part of recent NNSA spending has been on developing new processes and technologies for dismantlement, Harencak said. The NNSA should now be able to “reap the benefits” of that spending by accelerating the pace of dismantlement while saving money.

LaVera said that the Y-12 site has developed new infrared separation techniques that will improve dismantlement operations there. Also, he said, the B53 dismantlement program at the Pantex Plant in Texas “will use new tooling developed by state-of-the-art computer-assisted design models.”

During the conference call, D’Agostino said the B53 is very large and difficult to take apart. “You don’t attack these things with a screwdriver and a crescent wrench,” he said.