Eryn MacDonald

About the author: Ms. MacDonald received her MA in International Relations and Comparative Politics from Cornell University in 2009, specializing in China. Before coming to UCS in 2011 she worked at the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) program, and was an instructor at Endicott College teaching courses on international relations. Areas of expertise: Nuclear weapons complex, China

When It Comes to Fissile Material, More Is Not Better

The March/April issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has an article (unfortunately behind a paywall) about the enormous stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) the United States still retains for weapons purposes, co-authored by GSP Program Director Lisbeth Gronlund and myself. The article is based on chapter 6 of UCS’s recent report, Making Smart Security Choices, and concludes that the United States should immediately declare much more of this material excess and dispose of it in ways that minimize the risk that it could be stolen by terrorists and used to make a nuclear weapon. Read More

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The FY 2014 Budget—the Final Tally for NNSA Nonproliferation Programs

With the FY14 Omnibus Appropriations bill finally passed in January, and a new budget proposal for FY15 coming up next week, now is a good time to take a look at where the FY14 chips have fallen, and what the approaching budget cycle may hold for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  Our previous post covered weapons programs, while this installment will look at the agency’s funding for nonproliferation programs.

Nonproliferation Programs: Cuts, but Some Good News

smushed-money-thumbnailAs noted in our previous post, nonproliferation programs generally did not do as well as weapons programs in FY14, and total appropriations for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation were about $186 million less than the NNSA request. Despite the overall drop in funding between the NNSA’s request and the appropriations bill, however, appropriators actually added modest amounts of funding to several key programs, citing the importance of their goals and the danger that reduced funding would lead to long delays in accomplishing program goals.

Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI): Congress Holds NNSA to its Word on Goals

The Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) was one of the programs that received modest additional funding from appropriators in FY14. The NNSA requested $424 million, about 12 percent less than the program’s FY13 funding. The NNSA explained the drop in requested funding by saying that the program is reaching the end of an intensive four-year effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material worldwide, and that most of the funding for this effort was frontloaded, so less is required as it nears its end. In FY12 budget documents, however, the NNSA anticipated requesting $637 million for the program in FY14. Moreover, a comparison of current program goals with the FY12 request shows that they have been scaled back.

FY14 Global Threat Reduction Initiative Funding, USD, in millions

GTRI FY14 tbl

(click to enlarge)

Despite the NNSA explanation, however, Congressional appropriators added $18 million to the NNSA request, for a total of $442 million—an increase, but still $59 million less than the program’s FY13 funding. Senate appropriators actually sought to increase funding for the program further, citing concern over the potential for a reduction in funding to cause completion of a program to install security upgrades at civilian buildings with vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials to slip from 2025 to 2044—20 years later than the NNSA’s previously stated goal. House appropriators were less supportive, attempting to limit increased funding to the international portions of GTRI, while cutting funding for domestic activities.

Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX): Digging a Deeper Hole

One other beneficiary of the appropriations process was the Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel program, for disposing of excess weapons plutonium. The administration requested $503 million for disposing of plutonium and uranium in FY14—a drop of about 30 percent from its FY13 funding. Within that amount, funding for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) dropped from $438 million to $320 million. The NNSA said it would slow the program while conducting an assessment of alternative plutonium disposition strategies. This assessment has reportedly been completed and presented to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, but it is not clear when the results will be announced.

Mixed Oxide Fuel Program Funding, USD, in millions

MOX FY14 tbl

(click to enlarge)

Despite expressing concern about delays and cost overruns in the program, Congress (influenced heavily by key members from South Carolina, where the program is based) elected to increase funding above the NNSA request. The appropriators provided an additional $24 million for the program in FY14, for a total of $344 million. While this is a cut of $94 million from FY13 funding, it is still too much; it makes no sense to increase spending on a program in the midst of a reassessment. This is particularly true when alternative strategies like immobilization pose fewer security risks and could ultimately be cheaper than MOX.

The Final Tally: Room for Improvement in FY15

In the end, the big question is whether in FY15 either Congress or the NNSA will finally begin to take seriously the ongoing fiscal constraints that the entire federal government faces. In the FY14 budget process, Congress began to recognize that it needs to keep a closer eye on the NNSA’s more extravagant plans, as in the case of the interoperable warhead, but still increased funding for pet projects like MOX.

Some of the additional studies Congress requested this year—such as on the B61 or the W78 life extension programs—may encourage a more reasonable approach to the FY15 budget request. At the very least, they should provide much-needed details on the NNSA’s plans and cost estimates. Such external scrutiny of many current and previous NNSA projects is essential, or the programs will continue to be years behind schedule and many times more expensive than anticipated. Congress must exercise its authority to demand additional information and transparency from the NNSA to ensure that the programs the agency proposes are necessary and carried out efficiently.


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The FY 2014 Budget—the Final Tally for NNSA Weapons Programs

On January 16th, two weeks after the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2014 began, Congress passed the FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Act that will fund government operations through September 30, 2014. That action finally freed the government from a series of short-term funding measures and, it is hoped, will pave the way for a more normal budget process for FY 2015. This massive bill lumps together all eleven annual appropriations bills to cover funding for every federal agency, including the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  With the administration scheduled to put out its budget proposal for FY 2015 next week, we can now see where the FY 2014 chips have fallen, and get some idea of what the future may hold.












NNSA FY14 Funding, USD, in billions

Eryn table 1-1

(click to enlarge)

Amounts are not exact due to rounding.

*includes rescission of $64 million from prior year balances


The final overall FY14 appropriation for the NNSA came in at $11.2 billion, a modest decrease from the Obama administration’s request of $11.7 billion, and also slightly under the agency’s FY13 funding. Of this, $7.8 billion (about 70 percent) is for Weapons Activities and $2 billion for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, with the remaining amount going to Naval Reactors ($1.1 billion) and the NNSA Office of the Administrator. While the overall trend was down—understandable in a year when the entire government is facing cuts—some programs fared better than others.  In the Weapons Activities category, for example, Appropriators allocated $7.8 billion—virtually level with last year and slightly more than in FY12—while Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation fared worse, with a 7.1% cut from the FY14 request, but a nearly 19% decline from FY13. Below we look more closely at a few key weapons programs; a follow-up post will look at the nonproliferation programs.

Weapons Activities: Still a Winner

Appropriators provided only slightly less funding overall than requested for Weapons Activities, but some individual programs within this category did not do as well. The biggest cut was to the W78 life extension program (LEP), which received only about half of requested funding, while the B61 LEP was a notable winner.

FY14 Life Extension Program Funding, USD, in millions

Eryn table 1-2

(click to enlarge)

*Funds authorized for “W78/88-1 Life Extension Program”

B61 Life Extension Program: Most Funding Intact, Despite Reservations

Despite Senate appropriators’ efforts to substantially cut funding for the update to the B61 gravity bomb—to $369 million from a requested $537 million—the final appropriation for the DOE portion of the program matched the NNSA request. That gives the program a hefty 45% increase over FY13 funding. However, noting that the overall life extension program may cost up to $10 billion total, both houses of Congress raised questions about the NNSA’s selection of such a costly and extensive alternative and the agency’s ability to successfully manage the program. While providing the requested funding, the appropriations bill requires DOE to submit a report to Congress including a description of all alternatives considered for the B61 LEP, along with “a comparison of the costs and benefits of each…to include an analysis of trade-offs among cost, schedule and performance objectives against each alternative considered.” This requirement hints that Congress is still concerned about the B61 update and, because they are concerned about the process, hopes to learn enough to avoid something similar in the future.

On the DOD side, appropriators cut funding for the proposed new tail kit for the B61 nearly in half. DOD requested $67 million for this work, which would increase the bomb’s accuracy, an improvement that DOD argues would allow a reduction in the bomb’s yield. Appropriators also rejected a $10 million DOD request to assess using the new fighter plane, the F-35, to drop the life-extended B61 bombs.

W78/W88-1 and Interoperable Warheads: On the Chopping Block

The appropriators’ position on the proposed first interoperable warhead (IW-1) evolved as news reports emerged suggesting that the Obama administration was changing its own plans. The “interoperable warhead” was to replace the W78 and W88 warheads, and used on both land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and sea-based submarine-launched ballistic missiles. In its FY14 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, released in July 2013, the NNSA laid out an aggressive plan for life extension programs over the next 25 years that included an additional two interoperable warheads to follow. The overall cost of its plans was projected to be $60 billion, with $14.5 of this for the IW-1.

In December 2013, however, reports surfaced that plans for IW-1 were in jeopardy, and that the administration’s upcoming FY15 budget would indefinitely defer work on the program. Cost was initially cited as a major factor in this decision.

In light of these reports, House and Senate appropriators, who had both fully funded the $73 million request for work on the W78/W88-1 IW-1 in their initial bills, essentially killed the interoperable warhead in the final omnibus bill. That bill provided only $38 million, a cut of almost half of the request. The accompanying report states that the provided funding is to be used “to continue to study options to extend the life of the W78,” and leaves out the W88 entirely, meaning no funding is available to work on that warhead in FY14.

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Mixed Feelings on MOX

Congressional Response to the NNSA’s Budget: Part 2

The second in a four-part series on the nuclear weapons budget. Click here for Part 1.

The Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel project at the Savannah River site—part of an agreement with Russia to dispose of excess plutonium extracted from dismantled nuclear weapons—saw a significant drop in funding in the NNSA’s FY14 budget request. The $503 million request for fissile materials disposition, of which MOX is a part, was down $219 million, about 30 percent, from FY13. Within this, funding for construction of a MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) dropped from $438 million to $320 million. The NNSA says this is because it wants to slow the MOX program while the administration conducts an assessment of alternative plutonium disposition strategies. We understand that the assessment has been completed and is in the hands of DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, but it is unclear if they will announce the results soon or wait until the release of the FY15 budget before they reveal any conclusions.

The program is certainly ripe for reevaluation. Read More

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Command and Control?

Command and Control by Eric SchlosserMore than two decades after the end of the cold war, the threat of nuclear weapons has largely faded from public consciousness. The generation now coming of age grew up with nightmares of terrorists rather than Soviet missiles.

Recently, however, many Americans have been hearing about these weapons again. Read More

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The Partial Test Ban Treaty: 50 Years Later

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT, also known as the Limited Test Ban Treaty or LTBT), on October 10th, 1963. The treaty was the first arms control agreement of the nuclear age, outlawing the explosive testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater. Despite early plans to call for a ban on all explosive nuclear weapons testing, in the end the treaty did not cover underground explosions, and as a result hundreds of such tests were conducted over the following decades.  Read More

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Congressional Response to the NNSA’s Budget: Part 1

NNSA FY 2014 Budget RequestBack in the spring, we posted our analysis of the NNSA’s FY 2014 budget request, which sought to reduce funding for nonproliferation programs while increasing funding for nuclear weapons activities. Since then, much has happened, but not much has been finalized. While the House has passed both authorizing and appropriations bills, the Senate still has not passed either, and with the ongoing battles over government shutdowns and debt ceilings, it doesn’t look like an agreed budget bill will happen any time soon. Read More

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Workshop on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Safety & Security

Last December UCS, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), held a one-day workshop on the safety and security of U.S. nuclear weapons. About 20 people participated, including active and retired scientists and engineers from Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National labs; representatives from NNSA, DOD and the State Department; independent scientists who are members of the JASON group that advises the government on nuclear weapons and other security issues; and experts from academia and nongovernmental organizations. Read More

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Congress to the NNSA: Get Your Act Together on B61 LEP

B61 nuclear weapon,

A B61 nuclear weapon on display
Credit: Flickr/Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire

In its FY14 budget request, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) asked for increased funding for nuclear weapons activities and decreased funding for nonproliferation programs. One of the biggest requested increases was for the B61 Life Extension Program (LEP), which we discussed in a previous blog. The NNSA requested $537 million in funding for the B61 LEP for FY14—a 45% increase over FY13. In committee consideration of the appropriations bill, the Senate cut $168 million from the request (with the possibility of restoring this amount if the program stays on deadline and on budget), while the full House increased funding by $24 million. These very different numbers, however, obscure the fundamental underlying agreement on the need for the NNSA to better justify its plans for an elaborate and expensive LEP for the B61, rather than a more modest option. Read More

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3+2 = $60 Billion

MAD MathThe National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) has a new plan for the future make-up of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Dubbed “3+2,” it is a 25-year plan to consolidate the seven existing types of U.S. nuclear weapons down to five—three interoperable ballistic missile warheads that could be used on either intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs); and two air-delivered weapons, a bomb and a cruise missile.  It is also projected to cost over $60 billion. And that is just a starting figure. Read More

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