Reading Room

House Armed Services Committee Robs Needed Cleanup Funds to Increase Weapons Budget, National Ignition Facility

The House Armed Services subcommittee mark includes $14.3 billion for fiscal year 2010 Dept. of Energy (DOE) Atomic Energy Defense Activities, exclusive of defense nuclear nonproliferation funds.

Within that amount, the subcommittee mark increases the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) stockpile stewardship program by $152 million over the President's request.

To accomplish this, the subcommittee mark reallocates $20 million from prior year unobligated balances and, most significantly, specifies a shift of more than $100 million from the DOE Defense Environmental Cleanup account to certain Stockpile Stewardship activities.

Chief among the NNSA Stockpile stewardship facilities to receive an additional largesse from the subcommittee mark is the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The subcommittee mark would increase the NIF budget by $32 million for the coming fiscal year.

The NNSA budget request for fiscal year 2010 for NIF stands at more than $400 million (see NNSA FY2010 budget request, vol. 1, page 19, and others). The NNSA request for NIF already equals its 2009 funding, although NIF construction has been declared "complete" and a 2010 funding decrease to reflect the termination of construction costs might be expected.

Moreover, the NNSA fiscal year 2010 budget request for NIF specifies that there will be no ignition experiments on NIF until the end of the fiscal year (vol. 1, page 538, and others). And, the experiment will be conducted at approximately 1.3 megajoules, which is less than NIF's full energy of 1.8 megajoules.

Further, the budget request specifies that NIF will need two more ignition experiment "campaigns" in 2011/2012 BEFORE the megalaser is ready for a "third campaign to develop an initial platform for ignition application experiments" (vol. 1, page 122).

Thus, the NNSA appears to be backing away from prior promises to Congress to achieve ignition on NIF in 2010.

It is not likely that an additional $32 million from Congress in fiscal year 2010 will significantly advance NIF's schedule of ignition experiments or ensure that actual ignition will occur.

Instead, the language of the NNSA budget request suggests that technical questions, not money, dictate the rate of progress of NIF ignition experiments. For example, page 122 notes that "the optimal experimental sequence of these campaigns will be dictated by the measurements and analysis of results from each of the previous ignition experiments." It is unclear that an additional $32 million infusion will alter the outcomes.

Tri-Valley CAREs supports a more critical look at NIF's purported benefits and, pending that, a reduction in NIF's budget in FY2010. We see no good reason to keep throwing good money after bad by increasing NIF's funding.