FY 2017 Budget Request: NNSA up 2.9%; Showdown with South Carolina Delegation on MOX Looms

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Publication date: 
18 February 2016
Number: 
19

One element of the President’s request for a 2.9 percent funding increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration has already received considerable congressional attention: the proposed termination of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina.

In his final budget submission to Congress, President Obama requests a 2.9 percent funding increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). In contrast to the requests for some other science and technology-focused agencies this cycle, the request for NNSA does not rely on any new mandatory funding streams to support the increase. See this FYI for details on mandatory versus discretionary funding requests in the fiscal year 2017 budget.

The below table summarizes the proposed funding changes for NNSA’s major accounts and select subaccounts. 

Table 1: President's FY17 budget request for NNSA

Agency / Account / Subaccount FY15
Current
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request
Change
FY16-17
NNSA 11,396.7 12,526.5 12,884.0 2.9%
Weapons Activities 8,180.6 8,846.9 9,243.1 4.5%
Directed Stockpile Work 2,709.7 3,387.8 3,330.5 -1.7%
Science 412.1 423.1 442.0 4.5%
Engineering 136.0 131.4 139.5 6.2%
Inertial Confinement Fusion Ignition & High Yield  512.9 511.1 523.0 2.3%
Advanced Simulation & Computing 598.0 623.0 663.2 6.4%
Advanced Manufacturing Development 107.2 130.1 87.1 -33.0%
Uranium Processing Facility 335.0 430.0 575.0 33.7%
Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation 1,612.7 1,940.3 1,807.9 -6.8%
Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility 345.0 340.0 270.0 -20.6%
Naval Reactors 1,233.8 1,375.5 1,420.1 3.2%

* all figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars

In a press release, NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz said that the budget request is a “strong endorsement of NNSA’s vital and enduring missions.” The full budget request for NNSA is in volume one of the six volume Department of Energy request, available here.

At the start of the NNSA section of his briefing on the day of the budget rollout, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz highlighted NNSA’s continuing mission of maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, noting the recent 20-year anniversary of the U.S.’s transition to science-based stockpile stewardship after committing to not conduct explosive nuclear tests.

Moniz on MOX: 'just does not look to be affordable,' expects 'lively discussion' with Congress

One item in the request has already incited considerable consternation from certain Carolinians in Congress: the proposal to terminate the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility being constructed in South Carolina. This represents the most recent chapter in the long saga to follow through on a nonproliferation agreement with Russia to eliminate surplus plutonium from dismantled warheads. Starting in 1999, the U.S. decided to pursue the route of converting the plutonium to mixed oxide fuel that commercial nuclear power plants could then use.

In the budget briefing, Moniz explained that the Department of Energy has concluded that the MOX facility is unaffordable and that an alternative disposal method based on dilution will be cheaper, easier, and quicker:

The reality is the MOX program, with a lifetime cost certainly north of 30, probably 40, billion dollars with a need for an additional, say, half a billion dollars a year for decades just does not look to be affordable. The dilution approach…is surely technically less challenging and we believe is less than half the cost, even going forward. … I’m sure that we will have a lively discussion about this in the Congress.

Moniz estimated that ending the program would cost about $600 to $700 million over the course of a few years, starting with $270 million in fiscal year 2017. He then emphasized that the “dilute and dispose” method wherein the plutonium would be diluted then stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico could start about 15 years sooner and would have a much lower lifecycle cost.

When asked to what extent aspects of the investment in the MOX facility could be salvaged, he replied, “frankly, much of it will have to be written off, to be perfectly honest.”

The budget request explains that the 6.8 percent cut to the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account is “primarily due to the availability of prior year carryover balances and the termination of the MOX project.” Moniz said that these prior year funds will allow the program to maintain “basically constant spending.”

Multiple members of Congress from South Carolina have already decried the proposed termination, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in a statement released the day of the budget release:

The Obama Administration's reckless proposal to terminate the MOX program, without a proven disposition plan in place, is both ill-conceived and dangerous. This isn’t the first time they have proposed halting the MOX program, but given the fact their time in office is running short, thankfully it is their last.

Other highlights from the budget request

Some other notable items in the request include the following:

  • Continuing investments and progress in nuclear warhead life extension programs, including $223 million toward completing production of the W76-1 warhead by 2019, $616 million toward delivering the B61-12 First Production Unit (FPU) by 2020, $281 million toward delivering the WW88 FPU by 2019, and $220 million toward delivering the W80-4 FPU by 2025;
  • Continuing execution of the Administration’s “3 + 2” nuclear weapon modernization plan to consolidate the existing nuclear weapon stockpile into three types of ballistic missile warheads and two types of air delivered systems;
  • $145 million in additional funding for the Uranium Processing Facility, a 34 percent increase over fiscal year 2016, to help ensure the project stays within its $6.5 billion cost cap and fiscal year 2025 completion date;
  • Halting growth in deferred maintenance of facilities;
  • 20 percent acceleration in dismantling weapons retired before 2009;
  • $579 million to sustain production of strategic materials such as uranium, plutonium, and tritium;
  • $214 million for continuing development of a nuclear reactor for the Ohio-class submarine replacement;
  • $160 million to continue construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgical Research Replacement Facility;
  • $95 million for collaboration with the Office of Science on development of exascale computing systems;
  • $13 million for the International Atomic Energy Agency, some of which is to support their role in implementing the recent U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement; and
  • A 33 percent decrease in funding for the Advanced Manufacturing Development program, which “reflects a realignment from technology development investments to address higher NNSA priorities.”