Energy budget would boost basic research, weapons maintenance

(AP Photo/Matt Young) (Matt Young/ AP)

Updated 5:41 p.m.

President Obama’s proposed budget asks for $27.9 billion in discretionary spending, a 2.6 percent increase, for the Energy Department, featuring boosts in spending on basic research and costs associated with maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

The administration is asking for $627 million in additional funds, a third more than the current fiscal year, for managing the nuclear stockpile. Overall the proposed budget includes $11.7 billion for nuclear security, a 4 percent increase over the 2014 enacted level.

The Energy Department would also get: additional funds to clean up nuclear materials at the Hanford site in the state of Washington where research into nuclear weapons took place; a $127 million, or 34 percent, increase in spending on nuclear fusion to cover U.S. funds for ITER, an international project; a $52 million or 31 percent increase of Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E as it is commonly known.

In one major reversal, the Energy Department budget proposal said it would place the mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility in South Carolina into “cold standby.” The government has spent about $5 billion on this project, which would attempt to convert surplus weapons’ plutonium into commercial reactor fuel. It would have to spend much more than that to complete the project, which critics said would increase terrorism or accident risks.

Separately, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she was disappointed that the funding requested for all Hanford-related cleanup operations fell about $67 million short of the $2.15 billion appropriated in the current year.

 

Steven Mufson covers the White House. Since joining The Post, he has covered economics, China, foreign policy and energy.
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