Obama budget seeks 13.4 percent increase for National Nuclear Security Administration

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget blueprint calls for an increase in funding of more than 13 percent for the agency that oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, a greater percentage increase than for any other government agency.

The request could help reduce opposition to a new strategic arms control treaty with Russia. Republicans have argued that the Obama administration will jeopardize national security if it agrees to cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal without modernizing the country's remaining weapons.

The $11.2 billion request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) represents a 13.4 percent increase for the agency from the previous fiscal year. Most agencies across the rest of the government saw either no increase in the spending plan announced this week or a single-digit percentage increase.

At the NNSA, the Obama administration is seeking a funding increase of 25 percent, to $2 billion, for the continued safety and surety of the nuclear weapons stockpile. That 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.

In addition, the budget request provides 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.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who has actively followed negotiations over a new nuclear treaty with Russia, said the increase in the budget was "a definite improvement over previous years." But he said he will be meeting with administration officials to make certain that the budget correlates with the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review and the 10-year modernization plan that could help in dealing with any future treaty.

Other observers already see the new budget as a boon for arms-control advocates.

"The budget signals that the price for the START follow-on agreement with Russia and Senate certification of the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] is additional money for nuclear weapons modernization and production facilities," said Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists. He said the additional funds for research will provide continued employment for scientists so that skills remain to build new nuclear weapons if needed.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the proposed budget figures show that the administration is not allowing the nuclear arsenal to be degraded, as some critics have charged. Instead, Kimball said, the budget shows that there is "a major effort to extend the service lives of warheads."

"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," he said.

Other large increases in funding requests at the NNSA pertain to nonproliferation, which President Obama has stressed as part of his arms-control agenda. An estimated $100 million will go to Russia as part of a $400 million commitment to help it dispose of plutonium.

Obama also requested $559 million for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, an increase of 68 percent from the previous year. This is to aid in bringing under control additional nuclear materials from overseas and to convert research reactors fueled with highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium.

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