The final appropriations agreement for fiscal year 2017 increases the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget by 3.3 percent, slightly more than the requested amount. Much of the boost goes toward addressing the agency’s backlog of infrastructure repair and recapitalization, an issue Congress has highlighted in recent hearings.
The National Nuclear Security Administration – the semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy responsible for stewarding and modernizing the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile – receives a 3.3 percent funding increase under the final appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2017. Signed into law on May 5, the legislation sets funding levels for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
The funding increase brings NNSA’s budget up to $12.94 billion, $412 million more than the amount Congress enacted for fiscal year 2016. Much of the influx goes to the Weapons Activities account, which houses the Stockpile Stewardship Program. This program comprises the activities undertaken by the three nuclear weapon laboratories to maintain the nation’s nuclear warhead stockpile in the absence of explosive nuclear testing, which the U.S. voluntarily halted in 1992.
The explanatory statement accompanying the legislation provides policy direction and recommended funding levels for various NNSA programs and projects. The statement also specifies that instructions in last year’s House and Senate appropriations committee reports for DOE still stand unless superseded by new language. While the statement and reports do not carry the authority of law, agencies typically abide by these documents.
The table below displays the proposed and final spending levels for NNSA’s three primary subaccounts. More detailed tables for NNSA and other agencies are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
FY17 NNSA Appropriations
|Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation||1,940||1,822||1,822||1,822||1,902||-2.0%|
All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars and are rounded to the nearest million. The percentages are calculated based on the unrounded figures. Rescissions to the subaccounts are omitted.
* The Senate bill transfers $68 million in operations and maintenance funding for the Advanced Test Reactor from the Naval Reactors account to the Office of Nuclear Energy. To ease comparability with the other columns, these figures are adjusted to not reflect this move.
A large part of the boost to Weapons Activities goes to infrastructure repair and recapitalization, which the bill funds at a combined level of $1.07 billion, $488 million more than Congress enacted last year and $106 million higher than the request. Aging nuclear facilities have received significant attention from Congress recently, with the House Armed Services Committee having held hearings on the subject in September 2016 and March 2017.
Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan testified at both hearings, remarking that the low quality of some lab facilities is a serious impediment to workforce recruitment and retention. He also articulated a need for new facilities, such an advanced radiographic facility at the Nevada National Security Site as part of the Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments project.
Within Weapons Activities, the bill sets funding for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) at $1.84 billion, $24 million more than last year. The following chart shows the proposed and final spending levels for the main RDT&E subaccounts.
Weapons RDT&E and Infrastructure
- Advanced computing: Provides the requested $40 million increase for Advanced Simulation and Computing, including the requested $95 million for NNSA’s contribution to DOE’s work on developing exascale computers. The bill reflects Congress’s strong overall backing for exascale efforts, as it also provides $164 million – $10 million more than requested – for the DOE Office of Science’s Exascale Computing Project.
- Exascale roles & responsibilities: Expresses concern about the potential for duplication of effort on exascale computing between NNSA and the Office of Science and directs DOE to delineate the roles and responsibilities of the two organizations in a report to Congress.
- Office of Science collaboration: Lauds the Dynamic Compression Sector experiment conducted at Argonne National Laboratory as the “first successful collaboration” between NNSA, the Office of Science, and an academic institution, and encourages NNSA to use this project as a model for future collaborations.
- Inertial Confinement Fusion: Maintains funding for the National Ignition Facility and the Omega Laser Facility at $330 million and $68 million, respectively. The House report encourages DOE to develop a “strategy and appropriate funding for next generation pulsed power technology and mission applications, including support for university-based research.”
- Advanced radiographic facility: Provides the $11.5 million in requested construction funds for the Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments project, overriding the House’s proposal to zero out funding for this project. The House directed NNSA to first commission the JASON defense advisory group to assess the need for this advanced radiographic facility before proceeding.
- Stockpile Responsiveness Program: Provides $2 million in initial funding for the Stockpile Responsiveness Program, which is meant to complement the Stockpile Stewardship Program by giving weapons scientists and engineers more opportunities to exercise the full range of skills required to develop nuclear weapons. The Senate sought $10 million for this program, linking it to the goal of ensuring the nuclear security enterprise is prepared to respond to “emerging threats [and] unanticipated events.”
- Uranium Processing Facility: Provides the requested $145 million increase for construction of the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
- Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project: Provides the requested $160 million but breaks out funding for the project into four separate accounts, reiterating past congressional direction on the appropriate scope for these subprojects.
- Uranium enrichment R&D: Directs NNSA to submit a report outlining milestones of the domestic uranium enrichment program which includes a roadmap for centrifuge technology R&D.
- Advanced manufacturing: Enacts a $43 million cut to the Advanced Manufacturing account, which the budget request described as a “realignment from technology development investments to address higher NNSA priorities.”
Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation
- Nonproliferation R&D: Shifts management of funding for high-performance research reactor fuel development and domestic molybdenum-99 production to the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation to “better align R&D related activities with resident expertise for managing such activities.”
- Domestic Mo-99 production: Encourages NNSA to fully fund the government-industry cost sharing cooperative agreements for domestic molybdenum-99 production authorized by the American Medical Isotopes Production Act.
- High-performance research reactors: Directs NNSA to develop a long-term roadmap for development of low-enriched uranium fuels for high-performance research reactors in consultation with the National Academies.
- MOX Facility construction: Provides $355 million to continue construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) Fabrication Facility, rejecting the Obama administration’s proposal to terminate the project in favor of a dilution approach to disposing of plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads.
- MOX alternative study: Provides up to $15 million to support planning and conceptual design activities for the dilute and dispose alternative to the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility.
- Russia: Prohibits NNSA from working with Russia on new nonproliferation projects unless the secretary of energy reports to Congress that the activity is in the U.S. national security interest.