Nuclear Weapons Activity Surges in Energy Department Budget

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AMID SPECULATION ABOUT the Bush administration's plans for the development and use of nuclear weapons, the Department of Energy (DOE) requested $6.38 billion for its nuclear weapons-related activities in fiscal year 2004-an increase of $532.2 million from 2003's request, according to budget documents released February 3. DOE's anticipated nuclear weapons work includes an increase in nuclear test readiness and research into earth-penetrating nuclear weapons.

While continuing to observe the moratorium on nuclear testing, DOE will begin to prepare the Nevada Test Site to conduct a nuclear test within 18 months of a presidential order, as recommended in a fiscal year 2002 Enhanced Test Readiness Cost Study. For fiscal year 2004, the agency's test readiness budget will jump 39 percent to $24.9 million as DOE transitions from the current testing readiness window of 24-36 months. The final decision to move to an 18-month readiness posture, however, is contingent upon the outcome of a DOE report on the optimal time period for U.S. test site readiness. The report was mandated by Congress in the 2003 Defense Authorization Act and is expected to be completed within the next year. (See ACT, December 2002.)

In addition, the Energy Department's budget request proposes further research on a Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). In November 2002, Congress authorized $15 million a year for three years to conduct RNEP research, which will examine modifying existing B-61 and B-83 nuclear warheads to penetrate hardened and deeply buried facilities that might house weapons of mass destruction. The RNEP research will fall under the purview of the department's Advanced Concepts Initiative. …