Reading Room

For immediate release, November 7, 2005

Marylia Kelley, Tri-Valley CAREs, (925) 443-7148
Jackie Cabasso, Western States Legal Foundation, (510) 839-5877
Bob Schaeffer, Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, (239) 395-6773

Despite budgets deficits and need to fund Katrina relief and environmental cleanup, funding for nuclear weapons remains 50% above Cold War average

Livermore, California - Today, in Washington, D.C., the House and Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriation Subcommittees passed a bill to fund the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Army Corps of Engineers for Fiscal Year 2006. The bill funds both massive water projects, including flood control, and nuclear weapons and related cleanup. Thus, it serves as the key vehicle for tradeoffs between water projects, environmental cleanup of the nation's most radioactively contaminated sites, and nuclear weapons research and production.

According to nuclear watchdog organizations, the bill provides too much funding for nuclear weapons ? 50% above the Cold War average ? and shortchanges needed cleanup, especially at Hanford, Washington, the nation's largest, most contaminated site.

Loulena Miles of Tri-Valley CAREs stated, "It is a major victory that congress chose to cut all funding for the nuclear bunker buster and Modern Pit Facility. However, the National Ignition Facility was fully funded even though is not likely to achieve its scientific goal of thermonuclear ignition, and will present significant environmental impacts to the community and workers. Construction costs for the NIF have soared from the initially budgeted $1.8 billion to around $5 billion. We are disappointed that congress didn't cut this dangerous taxpayer boondoggle this year. However, it still appears that the NIF's future remains uncertain." Notably, Senator Pete Domenici (R.-NM), chair of the Senate subcommittee, stated "I remain skeptical that DOE will be able to deliver on its promises regarding schedule, cost and scientific capability regarding NIF."

Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico commented, "Deletion in the bill of funding for the nuclear bunker buster and the Modern Pit Facility and the first decline in the DOE's overall nuclear weapons budget in a decade are significant victories. Nevertheless, this country still spends 50% above the Cold War average for nucler weapons research, development, testing and production. We hope to convince Congress in the future that the bill's Reliable Replacement Warhead Program is not needed for genuine custodianship of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, but is instead a "nukes forever" program and a Trojan horse for future new designs."

Sen. Domenici has been a staunch defender of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and resumption of industrial-scale bomb production. Rep. David Hobson (R. OH), chair of the House subcommittee, has led Congressional opposition to these policies. For the previous two years he has succeeded in eliminating or cutting key funding for the more controversial nuclear weapons programs. Today's bill, already delayed some two months, is the product of tradeoffs between the two chairmen.

Some key points in the bill related to nuclear weapons funding are:

  • "Total Weapons Activities" under the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), DOE's semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency, is funded at $ 6.433 billion, a decrease from last year's $6.58 billion. The reconciled level is still 50% above the historic Cold War average of $4.2 billion for comparable nuclear weapons research, development, testing and production programs.
  • The NNSA request for $4 million for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) was rejected. Rep. Hobson has long opposed the nuclear "bunker buster." Senator Domenici announced two weeks ago that he was dropping his support for RNEP, thereby ensuring its defeat.
  • The NNSA's request of $7.67 million was zeroed out for the Modern Pit Facility (MPF), which is a proposed new super bomb plant capable of annually producing up to 500 plutonium pits. Pits are the "triggers" for modern thermonuclear weapons.
  • NNSA's request of $142 million for construction for the National Ignition Facility, a laser fusion facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was funded.
  • One cutting-edge program that both the Senate and House subcommittees had previously agreed upon was to increase the NNSA's request of $9.4 million for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program to $25 million. Congress has legislatively restricted RRW to work on just existing designs. However, the program is growing increasingly controversial because the NNSA and the nuclear weapons labs have explicitly stated that they want to produce new-design warheads and "transform the nuclear enterprise" and the country's nuclear weapons stockpile.

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