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– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Obama Administration Proposes Increase for NNSA Stockpile Management Budget
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On February 1, the Obama administration proposed a 10 percent increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration's stockpile management programs. If approved, funding for the weapons complex including stockpile surveillance and warhead life extension programs would rise to just over $7 billion. The proposal would ensure funds for the agency to reach full production of the refurbished Navy W-76 Trident submarine warhead, to refurbish the B-61 bomb, and to study options for maintaining the W-78, the warhead in the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. The request would also provide for a 10.4 percent increase, to $1.6 billion, in funds for additional work in science and technology to enhance confidence in the annual certification of the nuclear stockpile. An additional $2 billion would go to the long-term program to upgrade weapons-complex facilities, including a new plutonium facility for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a uranium manufacturing plant at Oak Ridge, Tenn.

What does it mean?

  • The Obama administration's plan to increase near-term and long-term funding for the nuclear stockpile management program certainly should dispel any doubts that the nuclear weapons labs do not have the resources, tools, and expertise needed to maintain a reliable arsenal into the indefinite future and that they can do so without resuming nuclear testing or building newly-designed nuclear warheads.
  • The administration's approach is consistent with independent technical assessments that have found that the U.S. nuclear arsenal can continue to be refurbished through non-nuclear tests and evaluations and, as necessary, the remanufacture of key components to previous design specifications. The fiscal year 2011 budget does not include any funding for the so-called "reliable replacement warhead" proposal, which is technically unnecessary and would run counter to the spirit of the CTBT and Obama's "no new nuclear weapons" pledge.
  • Contrary to myth, the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not "degrading" and a major effort to extend the service live of warheads has been underway for some time. Even without the additional funding proposed by the administration, confidence in the ability to maintain U.S. warheads in the absence of nuclear test explosions has been increasing.
  • Rather than increase funding for a new plutonium lab at Los Alamos and and a uranium manufacturing facility at Oak Ridge that could potentially increase warhead production capacity, the administration and Congress should focus the nuclear weapons laboratories' resources on core stockpile surveillance and maintenance tasks, refrain from research and development on new-design warheads, guard against unnecessary alterations to existing warheads that could undermine their reliability, and accelerate work to dismantle obsolete and retired warheads.