White House to boost nuclear weapons funding

President Barack Obama is set to boost funding for nuclear weapons programs next year, even as his administration promotes nonproliferation and pledges to reduce the world’s stockpile of nuclear arms. The new White House budget request seeks more than $7 billion for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an increase of $624 million from FY 2010.

NNSA administrator Thomas D’Agostino defended the request, saying the US needs the best nuclear weapons facilities and engineers as it moves toward eventual disarmament. “This budget is implementing the president’s nuclear vision,” he said. The new funding is needed as the US transitions “from a Cold War nuclear weapons complex…into a 21st century nuclear security enterprise.”

The Energy Department request for New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory totals $2.21 billion, up from $1.82 billion in 2010. The request for weapons-related activities is $1.6 billion, up from $1.3 billion, while nonproliferation activities would get $233 million, up from $188 million.

The total request for Sandia National Laboratories, near Albuquerque, is $1.49 billion, an increase from $1.3 billion. Weapons activities would get $1.14 billion, compared with the 2010 total of $953 million, while nonproliferation funding would increase to $187 million from the current $171 million.

Greg Mello, director of the watchdog Los Alamos Study Group, said budgets for the NNSA and Energy Department have increased in recent years, but the nation “hasn’t seen any increase in weapons activities like this since the early years of Ronald Reagan.” He called the budget “a complete surrender to Senate Republicans.”

Los Alamos’ budget includes about $225 million for design work for a new chemical and metallurgy research (CMRR) building, to replace a 58-year-old lab where scientists analyze samples of plutonium and other radioactive materials. Watchdog groups contend CMRR positions the US to build more weapons by giving Los Alamos the capacity to make large numbers of new plutonium pit designs—the triggers of nuclear weapons. Los Alamos lab officials say the facility would replace existing capabilities and would be needed for other science. (AP, Feb. 1)

See our last post on nuclear fear.

  1. Pentagon flunks missile test
    A US attempt to shoot down a ballistic missile mimicking an attack from Iran failed after a malfunction in a radar built by Raytheon Co, the Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency said Feb. 1. Both the target missile, fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and the interceptor, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, performed normally. But the Sea-Based X-band (SBX) radar system “did not perform as expected,” the agency said on its web site. Officials will investigate the cause of the failure to intercept, it said.

    It was the first time the US tested its long-range defense against a simulated Iranian attack. Previous drills have imitated a flight path from North Korea. After the failed test, costing about $150 million, Raytheon and Boeing, which manages the overall system, had no immediate comment.

    The abortive test coincided with a Pentagon report that Iran had expanded its ballistic missile capabilities and posed a “significant” threat to US and allied forces in the Middle East region. The Pentagon’s new Ballistic Missile Defense Review says Tehran had developed and acquired ballistic missiles capable of striking targets from the Middle East to Eastern Europe, and had fielded increasing numbers of mobile regional ballistic missiles. The report also singled out Syria’s short-range missiles as a “regional threat.”

    To counter the Iranian threat, the US has expanded missile defense systems in and around the Persian Gulf, including expanded land-based Patriot missile installations in Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain, as well as Navy ships equipped with missile defense systems. (Reuters, Feb. 1)

    How did this test “simulate” a flight path from Iran, which has no capability of reaching the Pacific? The Marshall Islands are in the “Middle East region”? Huh?

    Perhaps the Missile Defense Agency would care to explain this to us.