Reading Room

Trump “Skinny Budget” Starves Science to Fatten Nukes

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Posted by Marylia Kelley

President Trump today released an outline of his Fiscal Year 2018 budget request. The document contained only “top line” numbers and lacked detailed information that Congress will need before it can make any appropriation decisions for nuclear weapons and cleanup, or, frankly, for any other part of the federal government.

The necessary budget detail may not be released for weeks - or longer. The Trump team did not specify a date; sometime in May is the best guess. Presidential budgets are due the first Monday in February.

Trump’s team dubbed this its “skinny budget.” The document is a scant 64-pages, and the Dept. of Energy (DOE) rates two. Still, the “top line” numbers on those 2 pages are illuminating.

The DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is slated to receive a $1.4 billion increase over its present funding, an 11.3% increase. This represents the largest percentage increase anywhere in the government - and would give NNSA a total of $14.3 billion for the 2018 fiscal year.

The document contains only a few explanatory sentences, but says that this increase in NNSA funds would support “the goals of moving toward a responsive infrastructure and advancing the existing program of record for warhead life extension programs.”

Responsive infrastructure is code for building new nuclear weapon design facilities and bomb production plants, such as the proposed Uranium Processing Facility for nuclear weapons secondaries and new plutonium pit infrastructure for increased production of bomb cores.

Warhead life extension programs refer to efforts to significantly modify and enhance existing nuclear weapon designs. This includes putting new military capabilities into the W76 (submarine-launched warhead), the B61 (gravity dropped nuclear bomb), and the W80 (air-launched cruise missile warhead). Further, it includes a “refresh” of the W88, also a submarine-launched warhead.

What is not clear from the few lines of text is whether the 5-year freeze imposed by President Obama on the development of a wholly new “Interoperable Warhead-1” will hold in the Age of Trump, or whether the weapons labs have talked the new administration into fast tracking it despite its clear proliferation risks, which may include a resumption of U.S. nuclear explosive testing.

The fate of the “Interoperable Warhead-1” is only one of many important questions that the “skinny budget” leaves unanswered.

The budget suggests little change in funding for cleanup of toxic and radioactive wastes throughout the nuclear weapons complex. It’s pegged at $6.5 billion for the 2018 fiscal year. However, with no detail about how those funds will be allocated and to which projects, one cannot predict the fate of cleanup at any given site. Moreover, the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste dump and interim storage proposals together get $120 million.

The “skinny budget” nowhere mentions DOE nonproliferation programs and so it is unlikely that the agency’s programs to secure loose nuclear materials globally will receive robust funding, although we will have to wait for the details to be certain.

Similarly, the beleaguered plutonium mixed oxide fuel (MOX) program is not mentioned by name and so one can hope it will be closed out. But, again, only the detailed numbers will tell.

The DOE Office of Science is slated to be cut by $900 million (out of about $5 billion) and the DOE Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides grants to states and some tribes to boost energy efficiency for low-income residents, is terminated entirely.

Overall, program cuts in science and related programs appear to result in a trimmer DOE budget, partially masking that within DOE there is a significant reallocation to NNSA’s new bombs and bomb plants.

Stay tuned for budget details as soon as we get them – and look for our action alerts as soon as the detailed budget goes to Congress for its consideration.

For the “skinny budget’s” 2-pages on DOE funding, Click here .