NNSA Nonproliferation Budget Shifts

By Horner, Daniel | Arms Control Today, March 2012 | Go to article overview

NNSA Nonproliferation Budget Shifts


Horner, Daniel, Arms Control Today


The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is requesting $2.5 billion for its nonproliferation programs for fiscal year 2013, a figure that encompasses major increases for some programs and major cuts for others.

The request represents an overall increase of $163 million from the $2.3 billion the programs are receiving under the fiscal year 2012 appropriation.

Under the fiscal year 2013 request, a large increase would go to the effort to fabricate mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel from plutonium removed from the U.S. nuclear weapons program. MOX fuel is a mix of uranium oxide and plutonium oxide.

The request for the fissile materials disposition program is $921 million, up from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation of $685 million. As NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington noted, the 2012 figure is a decline from fiscal year 2011, when Congress provided $802 million. She said the fiscal year 2013 request would keep construction of the key facilities on schedule.

Harrington made the comments during a conference call with reporters on Feb. 13, the day the Obama administration released its budget request. According to the detailed budget justification document, the NNSA plans to ask for amounts in the range of $950 million to $1 billion for fissile material disposition in each fiscal year from 2014 to 2017.

Under current plans, the NNSA, which is part of the Department of Energy, will begin producing MOX fuel in 2016 and start loading the fuel into commercial reactors in 2018.

For work on the U.S. plutonium-disposition portion of the fissile materials disposition program, the NNSA is requesting $499 million, a jump from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation of $206 million. Part of that money would go to the "beginning of cold start-up activities."

As part of the budget request, the NNSA announced it was canceling the project to build a Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility, which would have taken apart nuclear weapons pits and converted their plutonium metal into an oxide form suitable for the MOX fuel fabrication facility. A goal for the coming fiscal year is "the shift of work scope to provide steady state feedstock" to the fabrication plant in the absence of the canceled facility, according to the budget justification document.

The NNSA said it now plans to supply the feedstock by increased use of a smaller-scale disassembly and conversion facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the H-Canyon, a Cold War-era reprocessing facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

That site is also the location of the MOX fuel fabrication plant, which is under construction, and a supporting facility known as the Waste Solidification Building. It also was the planned home of the canceled disassembly facility. In the budget document, the NNSA said it was "optimistic" that the new approach would "result in significant cost savings."

However, the MOX project is experiencing "increased pressure on project cost and schedule baselines" because of a shortage of qualified nuclear contractors, which has meant a lack of competition and therefore higher bids, the NNSA said in the budget document. The main contractor for the project, Shaw AREVA MOX Services, also is "experiencing significantly greater than expected turnover of experienced personnel," which is "due to the expansion of the U.S. commercial nuclear industry," the NNSA said. The NNSA reported those problems in last year's budget request. (See ACT, March 2011.)

Other Big Changes

Elsewhere in the budget, the request for nonproliferation and verification research and development was $548 million, $194 million above the fiscal year 2012 appropriation. The bulk of that increase comes from a $150 million request, which the NNSA said was a "one-time addition," to support research, development, and demonstration work toward a domestic uranium-enrichment capacity. …

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