U.S. plans major increase in nuclear budget

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has submitted to Congress a budget request for fiscal year 2011, which begins October 1, 2010. The draft budget, the first prepared by the new administration, includes a large increase in the allocation for nuclear weapons-related programs. This move is seemingly in contradiction to Mr. Obama's professed desire to achieve a nuclear-free world. The portion of the budget request related to the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons programs consumes about 600 pages of the budget document. The Chugoku Shimbun analyzed this section to uncover the reasons for and the background behind the ballooning budget figures.

Greater emphasis on nuclear non-proliferation

On February 18, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the National Defense University in Washington entitled "The Path to Nuclear Security: Implementing the President's Prague Agenda." In his remarks Mr. Biden stressed the administration's intention to boost the nation's nuclear weapons-related budget from the levels maintained during the administration of Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush.

"Unfortunately, during the last decade, our nuclear complex and experts were neglected and underfunded…," Mr. Biden said. "That's why earlier this month we announced a new budget that reverses the last decade's dangerous decline."

The National Nuclear Security Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy, is responsible for the development and maintenance of nuclear warheads. The NNSA budget submitted to Congress comes to a total of $11.2 billion (approximately 1 trillion yen) and represents an increase of 13.5 percent over the previous fiscal year.

Of this amount, the nuclear weapons-related budget comes to $7 billion (630 billion yen), a year-on-year increase of 9.8 percent. The budget also includes a statement expressing the government's intention to tack on an additional $5 billion (450 billion yen) over the next five years.

The budget for nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security also increased by 25.7 percent to $2.7 billion (240 billion yen), clearly demonstrating the government's emphasis on those areas. In particular, there is a large budget for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. This initiative provides international assistance for the modification of reactors that use highly enriched uranium as fuel to enable them to use low enriched uranium instead. It also includes measures aimed at preventing the theft of nuclear materials. The initiative's efforts are intended to make it difficult to divert fissionable materials from peaceful to military uses.

There is also an increase in expenditures for the research and development of a next-generation reactor for submarines with a view toward decommissioning strategic nuclear submarines that carry nuclear ballistic missiles starting in 2027.

Looking more closely at the nuclear weapons-related area in the above-mentioned three categories, the figures show a particularly large increase in the budget for the maintenance of nuclear weapon stocks, an increase of 26 percent for a total of $1.89 billion (17 billion yen).

The United States has not conducted any underground nuclear tests, which are used to investigate the degradation of nuclear components, since 1992. Nor has it manufactured any new nuclear weapons. On the other hand, as an alternative measure, the U.S. has budgeted large sums for the maintenance of nuclear warheads and research into maintenance methods.

Three times the budget of previous fiscal year

This budget will allocate even more funds to that area. The description of the allocation for research and development also mentions sub-critical nuclear experiments at the Nevada test site.

And the budget for maintenance includes an allocation of $317 million (2.8 billion yen) for items related to B61 nuclear bombs, more than three times the amount included in the budget for the previous fiscal year.

There are four variants of the B61. The budget increase is believed to be intended for research into their consolidation into a single type as well as into extending the life of the bombs. The budget also refers to the study which ensures its compatibility with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, now under development, and other aircraft. This suggests the United States is looking into the future option of adapting the B61 for these aircraft.

Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said, "The study is not needed for safety, security, or reliability since the B61 gravity bomb is already one of the safest weapons in the arsenal. I suspect this probably involves adding some new capabilities to the B61."

About 200 B61 bombs are currently deployed at bases in five European countries that are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But many people, particularly in the countries in which the bombs are deployed, have begun to call for their removal, contending that they are relics of the Cold War. The direction this effort will take is also one focus of NATO's "Strategic Concept," which outlines its long-term policies and which is currently under review.

There is also a large increase in the budget for infrastructure such as research facilities, including those for the new Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The project's facilities will be the site of the production of plutonium pits, which serve as the core of nuclear warheads. The budget allocation of $225 million (20 billion yen) demonstrates the government's intention to proceed with construction of the facility. The budget for this project is more than twice what was allocated last fiscal year.

Modernization of facilities

Damien Lavera, a spokesman for the NNSA, said, "This new CMRR facility will provide the nation with the capability to perform plutonium processing work that is critical to our stockpile surveillance and life extension program as well as nuclear nonproliferation, forensics, counterterrorism and treaty verification work. The nation needs modern, 21st century facilities to perform the nuclear security missions of the future." But if the facility goes into full operation in 2022 as scheduled, the production of plutonium pits is expected to increase from about 20 per year to from 50 to 80.

Why has the Obama administration proposed this expanded budget despite the president's expressed desire for a world without nuclear weapons?

Jacqueline Cabasso, a peace activist, said she believes one reason is that the U.S. government would like to see the ratification of a treaty to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia as well as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. She views the budget increase as an attempt to gain the support of the conservative wing of Congress, which has little enthusiasm for nuclear disarmament, and the nuclear weapons industry. In order to do this, she said, the administration must demonstrate that the U.S. nuclear deterrent can be maintained even if the country's nuclear stockpile is reduced and underground tests are no longer conducted.

In fact, last December, 41 Republicans and independent members of the Senate sent a letter to Mr. Obama in which they expressed their concern that nuclear deterrence would be weakened if further cuts were made to the nation's stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons. They stressed that they could not support a successor treaty to START 1 without the modernization of nuclear weapons.

Ratification of treaties by the Senate requires a two-thirds majority, which means the support of at least 67 of the Senate's 100 members. But the Democratic Party currently holds fewer than 60 seats in the Senate.

Ms. Cabasso noted that the budget is also based on the views of Congress, which must share the blame with the Obama administration. "Still, this is a risky business," said the activist, who recalls what happened in 1999 when the administration of President Bill Clinton sought ratification of the CTBT. After halting underground nuclear tests, the administration allocated a huge budget to the maintenance of the quality of nuclear weapons. Nevertheless the Senate failed to ratify the CTBT.

How the U.S. Congress deals with the upcoming budget and treaty deliberations will have an impact on the future of the U.S. as a nuclear superpower. It will truly be ironic if Mr. Obama's vision of a nuclear-free world leads to an expanded budget for nuclear weapons.

Hiroshi Oshima, a professor at Shudo University and an expert on the U.S. policy, said, "For President Obama, who declared he would maintain deterrence in his speech in Prague, this budget is not necessarily the result of a compromise he made unwillingly. Japan was the victim of atomic bombings, but it also relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for its security. So, Japan also must face reality."

Interview with Nickolas Ross of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability

The Chugoku Shimbun asked Nickolas Ross, program director of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, for his assessment of the draft budget. The alliance is a network of more than 30 organizations that campaign throughout the United States for a nuclear-free world.

I commend President Obama for enhancing the budget for nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security, as he declared he would do in his speech in Prague. But the budget for the maintenance of nuclear weapons and for the modernization of infrastructure is clearly too large. This may raise doubts internationally as to how serious he really is about nuclear disarmament.

The essence of this budget is not what sort of budgetary measures are necessary to cut nuclear weapon stocks while continuing to maintain and inspect nuclear warheads. This budget is based on what scientists want to test and what facilities the National Nuclear Security Administration wants.

The 13 steps that were agreed on at the 2000 review conference for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty are not merely steps toward nuclear disarmament. They provide for "irreversibility" to prevent backsliding. In that sense, the enhancement of the system for the production of plutonium pits at Los Alamos National Laboratory and other projects are incompatible with this principle. The U.S. government's accountability will likely be questioned at the review conference in May of this year.


Drafting of U.S. budget
The budgetary decision process in the United States differs from that of Japan. Every year on the first Monday of February the president submits the budget for the following year to Congress and then deliberations begin. The "appropriations act" can be likened to the budget for Japan's government, and the legislature has the authority to draft this bill. The budget is merely a proposal by the president, but it is clearly reflected in the content of the appropriations act. In some cases Congress also tries to put its own stamp on the bill.

(Originally published March 8, 2010)

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