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Funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s weapons program is projected to continue to grow over the next five years, reaching nearly $10 billion by Fiscal Year 2019, according to the Obama Administration’s detailed budget justification for the agency that was released over the weekend. The Administration requested $8.3 billion for the weapons program in FY 2015, a $533 million increase, and more of the same is expected in FY 2016, with the Administration projecting it will need $8.9 billion for the weapons program that year. Funding is projected to steadily increase before reaching $9.7 billion in FY 2019.

Meanwhile, funding for the NNSA’s nonproliferation account is expected to get a small boost in FY 2016 before leveling off through FY 2019, the budget request reveals. The agency requested $1.6 billion for the agency’s nonproliferation account in FY 2015, down $399 million from FY 2014 enacted levels. Funding is projected to be $1.7 billion in FY 2016, and largely flatline through FY 2019.

B61 Spending to Reach $729M in FY 2018

The highest priced item in the NNSA’s budget is work on the B61 life extension program. The Administration requested $643 million for the program in FY 2015, and funding for the program is expected to steadily increase, reaching $729 million in FY 2018 and $726 million in FY 2019. Other key life extension work, however, is being delayed by several years, according to the budget documents. The W78/W88 interoperable warhead is being delayed by five years (a First Production Unit is not scheduled to be completed until FY 2030) and no funding is being requested for work on that warhead, and the cruise missile warhead is being delayed by three years.

However, the Administration is requesting $9.4 million in FY 2015 to continue studying the refurbishment of the warhead and said it will evaluate the “option to fund an earlier FPU [First Production Unit] if circumstances dictate.” Currently, the first cruise missile warhead FPU is scheduled to be completed in FY 2027, three years later than previously planned. The Administration noted that it has narrowed the range of plutonium pits it might use in the cruise missile warhead to two, the W80 and W84. Using pits from the B61 is no longer being considered, according to the budget request.

Pit Production Capability Milestone Delayed

The Administration is also delaying a major milestone in pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to the budget documents. The NNSA is now projected to achieve a capacity to manufacture 30 pits by FY 2026, a five-year delay from previous budget projections. There is also no mention in the budget documents of reaching the capacity to produce 50 to 80 pits per year, which is the ultimate goal currently required by the Pentagon. The NNSA did not provide any reason for the delay and did not respond to a request for comment, but Greg Mello, the Director of the Los Alamos Study Group, suggested that the delay could have been connected to delays in the W78/W88 interoperable warhead program and the cruise missile warhead. “With increasing scope, there is no technical or managerial basis for near-term pit manufacturing,” Mello said. “The supposed need for near-term pit manufacturing capacity was an artifact of fallacious fiscal assumptions.”

FY2015 NNSA budget tracker

No New Construction Money for Modular Pu Strategy

The Administration is also requesting no money for construction of a new plutonium capability at Los Alamos National Laboratory, though it is embarking on the first part of a strategy to revitalize the lab’s plutonium capability in the wake of the deferment of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility. The budget request includes money for the first phase of the plutonium strategy, to install additional equipment in the lab’s existing facility, the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building. The NNSA will also begin to plan how the lab’s Plutonium Facility can be reconfigured to house more of the capabilities that had been planned for CMRRNF, which is the second phase of the strategy. The NNSA will also broaden the analysis of its analytic chemistry and materials characterization capabilities.

Construction on new modules for plutonium work, an idea conceived after CMRR-NF was deferred, won’t begin for several more years, NNSA weapons program chief Don Cook said earlier this month. “The modules are part of the third phase, and until we know how many of them [are needed] and the detailed design we won’t be requesting money for them,” Cook said. Acting NNSA Administrator Bruce Held said the strategy will keep the agency on track to get out of the existing Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility by 2019. “What we’re actually spending on all forms of plutonium, the technology, the infrastructure, the science, keeping the workforce in place is around $300 million per annum and that’s giving us the base to develop these ideas very well,” Cook said.

More Details on OGSI Funding

The budget details also shed a little more light on extra spending on the Administration’s wish list for FY 2015. Dubbed the “Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative,” the Administration said it wants another $600 million for the NNSA’s weapons and nonproliferation accounts that would be above the Congressionally established budget cap for FY 2015. According to the budget details, which do not include any specifics about the funding, the OGSI money would be used to “accelerate modernization and maintenance of nuclear facilities” by “accelerat[ing] funding for infrastructure planning and improvements found in the Readiness in Technical Base and Facilities program.” It would also boost nonproliferation funding with extra money for “R&D to advance proliferation detection and nuclear detonation detection capabilities; efforts to remove and eliminate, or secure and safeguard vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials worldwide; and efforts to limit or prevent the illegal transfer and illicit trafficking of weapons-usable nuclear and other radiological materials.” Additional money would also go toward cybersecurity programs. —Todd Jacobson

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