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Obama Increasing Funding for Nuclear Weapons

More is Less? 'This budget is implementing the president's nuclear vision'

by Sue Major Holmes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - President Barack Obama is seeking increased funding for nuclear weapons research and security programs next year, even as his administration promotes nonproliferation and has pledged to reduce the world's stockpile of nuclear arms.

The administration on Monday asked Congress for more than $7 billion for activities related to nuclear weapons in the budget of the National Nuclear Security Administration, an increase of $624 million from the 2010 fiscal year.

NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino defended putting more money into the programs, saying the U.S. needs the best nuclear weapons facilities, scientists, technicians and engineers as it moves toward eventual disarmament.

"This budget is implementing the president's nuclear vision," he said.

The total Department of Energy 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 in 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 would increase to $187 million from the current $171 million.

The investment would ensure a smaller stockpile will take care of the nation's needs; the stockpile is safe and secure; and other nations aren't cheating as the U.S. moves "from a Cold War nuclear weapons complex ... into a 21st century, nuclear security enterprise," D'Agostino said.

Greg Mello, director of the nuclear watchdog Los Alamos Study Group, said budgets for NNSA and DOE 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," who have argued that stockpile reductions must be accompanied by a modernized nuclear weapons complex.

NNSA wants a 4.7 percent overall increase for infrastructure to more than $2.3 billion, including money for major long-term projects to replace aging buildings for plutonium work at Los Alamos and uranium work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Los Alamos' budget includes about $225 million for design work for a chemical and metallurgy research replacement building, known as CMRR, to replace a 58-year-old lab where scientists analyze samples of plutonium and other radioactive materials.

Watchdog groups contend CMRR positions the U.S. to build more nuclear 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 have said the facility would replace existing capabilities and would be needed for other science, even if Los Alamos didn't do pit production.

There's no exact cost figure for CMRR, but a 2008 Senate report estimated it at $2.6 billion - more than five times the initial estimate. The price tag awaits a final design for the facility, which cannot be done until a national nuclear posture review is completed this year.

NNSA's budget request includes more than $2 billion for stockpile support activities, a 25 percent increase, and $1.6 billion for science, technology and engineering, an increase of more than 10 percent.

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