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"Forget the Rest" blog


For immediate release February 8, 2016

Brief Informal Budget Heads-Up
(prior to tomorrow’s budget and our press release)

Contact: Greg Mello,, 505-265-1200 or 505-577-8563

Albuquerque – Tomorrow afternoon the Department of Energy (DOE) will release its fiscal year (FY) 2017 Congressional Budget Request (CBR), to this web page.[1]

We will issue a press release tomorrow but meanwhile thought some background would be helpful.

Volume 1 of the DOE CBR (FY16’s is here) pertains to National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) programs and will supply fresh detail on the administration latest iteration of its plans to modernize and maintain nuclear warheads and the warhead complex (our somewhat comprehensive review of the whole effort is here), dispose of surplus nuclear materials, support naval nuclear reactors, and pursue related NNSA missions. Vol. 5 will address Environmental Management.

Further detail can be found in the unclassified portion of the annual Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), due to Congress by March 15. The data-rich FY16 SSMP, which supplements the budget request in program detail, is here. SSMPs are relatively detailed in odd-numbered years and may be summary in nature in even-numbered years, per congressional requirement.[2]

Last year’s Study Group press release on “budget day” suggested several story lines:

  • The administration’s proposed warhead design, production budget was larger than Reagan and Bush – again. This large requested sum was eventually approved in FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
  • A much cheaper alternative (that will last through the 2030s) for the Navy portion of the ambitious first “interoperable warhead” (IW-1) was selected by the Nuclear Weapons Council, throwing a dark shadow on the IW-1 and the whole “3+2” warhead modernization plan.
  • The previous plan for plutonium warhead core (“pit”) manufacturing was finally scrapped, per Study Group request; $3 billion (B) in new plutonium equipment & remodeling was planned; with $2 B in underground factory “modules” apparently deferred.
  • Schedules for the new stealth cruise missile (Long-Range Stand Off, LRSO) and its associated warheads were accelerated. As noted then, this weapon would better enable nuclear first strike, and these (strategic) warheads were (and are) not counted under New START.

All these stories remain, to our eyes, quite interesting.

As we have previously we also provided inflation-corrected budget charts (NNSA Weapons Activities, Weapons Activities by NNSA site). Nota bene: official inflation is now very low indeed. Outyear increases in spending may or may not be justified by overall inflation. NNSA of course has always experienced its own special program cost inflation rates.  

What will be interesting in tomorrow’s NNSA budget request?

The answers to this question will be unique to everyone. The following are among the stories that come immediately to mind:

  • Pit infrastructure plans have changed again. Reports suggest (also here) underground modules will reappear tomorrow with an extra billion or so dollars added to their projected Total Project Cost (TPC). (To find the modules search tomorrow’s Vol. 1 for Project 04-D-125, the re-vamped Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Project.) CMRR had for a while disappeared entirely from the CBR but is now a partial “catch-all” projects for plutonium infrastructure investments at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Lab space in the $3 B modules is now expected to cost up to $300,000/sq. ft., twice the previous plan’s rate.  We can all verify this estimate tomorrow.

LANL’s Radiological, Utility, and Office Building (RLUOB, also part of the CMRR project) is expected to be a $1.1 B building when and if it is ever finally finished, the most expensive building in the history of New Mexico. It may, if not stopped, be administratively converted from a 8.4 gram Pu-239-equivalent radiological laboratory (hence the name) to a 400-gram Hazard Category III Nuclear Facility, despite not meeting the construction requirements for a nuclear facility.

Of course the sole tangible purpose served by pit production assumes a new Cold War.

  • It will be interesting to see if major project and program schedules are the same as they were a year ago.
  • The administration reportedly seeks a major changes in its plutonium disposition plans. We have written about this elsewhere.

There are major stories in the administration’s grand plan to modernize weapons and warheads. This will be the administration’s all-but-final budget request, President Obama’s all-but-last chance to put his stamp on these programs.


[1] Our web page of NNSA planning and budgeting documents from the past five years is here; FY2016 NNSA authorization and appropriations legislation, including the FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act, is here.

[2] A third planning document series is the classified annual 10-year plan for the nuclear weapons stockpile, nuclear weapons complex, nuclear weapons delivery systems and nuclear weapons command and control systems (the "1043 report"). 1043 reports typically have been submitted in the spring – for example on May 7, 2014 and April 2, 2015. For background and analysis of the 2014 “1043 report” see Government Accountability Office (GAO) GAO-15-536, “Nuclear Weapons Sustainment: Improvements Made To Budget Estimates, But Opportunities Exist To Further Enhance Transparency,” July 2015.

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