The House and Senate appropriations bills for the National Nuclear Security Administration would provide much of the Trump administration’s requested 10 percent increase to weapons-related research, development, test, and evaluation activities.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committee’s fiscal year 2018 spending bills for the National Nuclear Security Administration would provide much of the Trump administration's requested 10 percent boost for the agency’s $1.84 billion Weapons Activities Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) account. This account funds a set of activities that comprise the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which the U.S. relies on to certify the reliability and safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile in the absence of explosive testing.
The chart below displays the proposed funding changes for the primary accounts within Weapons Activities RDT&E. Detailed tables containing funding figures for these and other selected accounts are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.
Below are summaries of selected provisions from the appropriations committee reports that accompany the bills as well as relevant provisions from the House and Senate’s "National Defense Authorization Act" (NDAA) bills for fiscal year 2018. The full House appropriations committee report is available here and the Senate report is available here.
In its budget request, NNSA proposed a significant restructuring of its Science program, creating a new subprogram named “Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments” (ECSE) that includes activities transferred from other subprograms. In its justification for this new effort, NNSA explained that in 2014 the nuclear weapons labs “jointly identified a significant gap in the capabilities available to meet the responsibilities of the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program.” These include a “physics gap” in the understanding of the final stages of subcritical plutonium implosions as well as a “gap in experimental capabilities needed to develop the next generation of weapon designers in the absence of underground nuclear testing.”
The total request for ECSE in fiscal year 2018 is $22 million for enhancement of the U1a Complex at the Nevada National Security Site, where subcritical experiments are performed, as well as $51 million funded within the Science program. The enhanced capabilities made possible by ECSE are expected to be operational in the mid-2020s, with a projected cost of $360 million over fiscal years 2018 to 2022.
Both the House and Senate committees are supportive of this effort, providing the requested amount for the U1a Complex Enhancements Project. The House report also underscores that the committee “supports the request to increase the number of subcritical experiments that are necessary to gather data and improve the physics-based computational models used for the annual assessment and certification of the nuclear weapons stockpile.”
However, both reports would provide about $10 million less than requested within the Science program for ECSE. These amounts are lower than the recommendations within the House and Senate NDAAs for fiscal year 2018. The House NDAA recommends the requested amount, while the Senate NDAA asserts that this funding level is “not expected to allow for completion of the radiography project on time in 2024,” and accordingly recommends a $15 million increase over the request.
NNSA also proposed a significant addition to its Engineering program, requesting $40 million for the Stockpile Responsiveness Program (SRP). Designed to complement the Stockpile Stewardship Program, SRP was authorized in the NDAA for fiscal year 2016 and received initial funds in the final appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2017. This is the first year NNSA has requested money for SRP within its budget submission.
In its justification, NNSA explains that the SRP will “exercise the capabilities required to support all phases of the joint nuclear weapons life cycle process, transfer knowledge and skills to the newer generation of nuclear weapon designers and engineers, and strengthen integration between DOD and NNSA.” It also notes that the SRP will “rely on enhanced experimental capabilities such as those provided by ECSE.”
The House report would provide the requested $40 million. The Senate report says the committee “supports the important goals” of the SRP, but rather than provide the money outright, it gives NNSA a special authority to reprogram up to $40 million in funds from the Weapons Activities account for the program.
As with ECSE, the House and Senate NDAAs for fiscal year 2018 contain notable language relating to the SRP.
In particular, the Senate NDAA expresses strong support for the program and recommends a $10 million increase over the request. The House NDAA recommends the requested amount, but goes beyond the Senate version by directing NNSA to conduct a “new and comprehensive design competition for a nuclear warhead that could be employed on ballistic missiles of the United States by 2030.”
Although the provision does not mention the SRP directly, its linkage to the program is clear through its stipulation that the competition shall “exercise the full set of design skills necessary for an effective nuclear deterrent and responsive enterprise through production of conceptual designs and, as the [NNSA] Administrator determines appropriate, production of non-nuclear prototypes of components or subsystems.”
As justification for conducting such a competition, it cites recent congressional testimony by co-chairs of a National Academies study on “Peer Review and Design Competition in the NNSA National Security Laboratories” as well as testimony by the Defense Science Board.
Inertial Confinement Fusion
The House report would fund the Inertial Confinement Fusion program at the current level of $523 million, while the Senate report would increase it by 4 percent to $545 million. NNSA requested a 2 percent increase.
The House report recommends $330 million for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and $68 million for the OMEGA Laser Facility at the University of Rochester. The Senate report recommends $344 million for NIF, $75 million for the OMEGA facility, and $62 million for the Z Facility at Sandia National Laboratory. The House report does not mention the Z Facility.
Notably, the House report expresses concern about NNSA’s fusion ignition efforts, saying that the agency “has made little progress in achieving measurable results towards ignition over the past two years and does not plan to perform any assessments on its ability to achieve ignition until at least 2020.” It then directs NNSA to submit a plan to Congress that “includes milestones to achieve ignition and to support other stockpile activities” over a five year period.
The initial goal was for NIF to achieve ignition by 2012, and expectations have since shifted. “The question is if the NIF will be able to reach ignition in its current configuration and not when it will occur,” states a 2016 review of NNSA’s fusion program.
Advanced Simulation and Computing
Both reports would provide the requested 11 percent increase for the Advanced Simulation and Computing program, bringing its budget up to $734 million. Much of this increase would go toward NNSA’s contribution to the joint DOE Office of Science-NNSA exascale computing initiative. The Senate report recommends that NNSA spend no less than the requested $161 million on “activities associated with the exascale initiative, such as advanced system architecture design contracts with vendors and advanced weapons code development to effectively use new high performance computing platforms.” The House report does not specify a topline figure for the exascale initiative.
Committee report comparison
Below are a set of expandable tabs which contain excerpts from the explanatory reports that accompany the House and Senate appropriations bills.
Weapons Activities RDT&E
House: “The recommendation supports the request to increase the number of subcritical experiments that are necessary to gather data and improve the physics-based computational models used for the annual assessment and certification of the nuclear weapons stockpile.”
Inertial confinement fusion
House: “The Committee recommends $522,959,000, of which $68,000,000 is for the OMEGA Laser Facility at the University of Rochester, $330,000,000 is for the National Ignition Facility (NIF), and $8,000,000 is for the Naval Research Laboratory. The NNSA has made little progress in achieving measurable results towards ignition over the past two years and does not plan to perform any assessments on its ability to achieve ignition until at least 2020. Not later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act, the NNSA shall provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress a plan with specific performance milestones for its experimental activities that covers a five-year period and that includes milestones to achieve ignition and to support other stockpile activities.”
Senate: “The Committee recommends $544,934,000 for the inertial confinement fusion ignition and high-yield campaign. Within the amount provided, $344,000,000 shall be for inertial confinement fusion activities at the National Ignition Facility, $61,600,000 shall be for Sandia National Laboratory’s Z facility, and $75,000,000 shall be for the University of Rochester’s Omega facility. Within the Inertial Confinement Fusion program, the Committee is concerned that NNSA’s contracting practices are leading to instability in the target design and fabrication vendor base. The Committee encourages NNSA to review all current and planned target supply contracts to ensure its actions support a robust, innovative and cost-effective target design and fabrication capability from multiple vendors, including small businesses.”
Advanced simulation and computing
House: “Within the amounts for exascale, $12,000,000 is provided for research on advanced memory technology research to address exascale technical challenges.”
Senate: “The Committee recommends $734,244,000 for advanced simulation and computing. Within these funds, the Committee recommends no less than $161,000,000 for activities associated with the exascale initiative, such as advanced system architecture design contracts with vendors and advanced weapons code development to effectively use new high performance computing platforms.”
Stockpile Responsiveness Program
Senate: “The Committee recommendation supports the important goals of the Stockpile Responsiveness Program. The bill includes a provision that provides special reprogramming authority of up to $40,000,000 for the Stockpile Responsiveness Program, subject to the Committee’s normal notification guidelines.”
“Of the amounts made available by the act for the “National Nuclear Security Administration—Weapons Activities”, up to $40,000,000 may be reprogrammed within such account for the Stockpile Responsiveness Program, subject to the notice requirement in section 301(e).”
[Note: the second paragraph is from the bill itself.]
Trusted microelectronics production recapitalization
Senate: “The Committee supports the request to begin recapitalization of the NNSA’s trusted strategic microelectronics capability. However, the Committee urges NNSA to maintain focus on developing a cross-government approach to ensure that both NNSA and multiple customer needs are satisfied. No later than 90 after the date of enactment of this act, NNSA is directed to submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress detailing the technical requirements for trusted microelectronics, an analysis of alternatives for meeting those requirements among public and private sector entities, and preliminary cost and schedule estimates for the various alternatives.”
Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation
Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility
House: “The Committee recommends $340,000,000. The recommendation provides sufficient funding to sustain the current pace of construction on the MOX facility in fiscal year 2018 and prohibits the use of MOX funding to terminate the project while the Congress is considering an alternative approach for disposing of these materials. Within available funds, $5,000,000 is provided for a federal owner’s agent to provide independent and external assistance to the NNSA in providing oversight to the contractor and to ensure efficient execution of the MOX project.”
“Material Disposition.—The Committee recommends $1,000,000 for the Uranium Lease and Takeback Program. The recommendation does not include $24,000,000 requested to conduct additional planning activities for the dilute and dispose alternative to the construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication (MOX) facility. The Congress has already appropriated $20,000,000 in prior years to develop higher fidelity lifecycle cost estimates and is awaiting the results of those efforts.”
Senate: “The Committee recommends $270,000,000, and supports the budget request proposal to terminate the construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility as early as practicable. No funds are provided to continue construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication facility.”
House: “Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development (DNN R&D).—The Committee recommends $523,595,000. As in fiscal year 2017, the recommendation includes funds for LEU fuels development for U.S. high performance research reactors within DNN R&D to better align research and development-related activities with the resident expertise for managing a long term development program within the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and to respond to concerns detailed in a National Academies study regarding the complexity of technical issues that must be overcome to convert those reactors over the next 15 years. The amount for LEU fuels development also includes funding to develop LEU fuel for the TREAT reactor.”
Senate: “The Committee recommends $436,095,000 for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development. The Committee supports a robust research and development capability to support nonproliferation initiatives. Proliferation of illicit nuclear materials and weapons continues to be a high-consequence threat, and our ability to detect the production and movement of these materials is vitally important. Research and development in this area is especially important. The Committee recommendation also supports continued research and development of novel enrichment technologies to support nonproliferation goals, and recommends $2,000,000 for this purpose.”
Cesium irradiator replacement
House: “Within funds for domestic radiological materials, the recommendation includes up to $10,000,000 to expand the capacity of radiological security programs designed to replace cesium-137 chloride irradiation sources with alternate technologies that cannot be used in radiological dispersal devices. Replacing these cesium sources with safe alternatives provides permanent threat reduction and eliminates the need for the NNSA to assist in costly security upgrades to irradiator facilities.”
Senate: “The Committee finds that unlike the materials needed for a nuclear weapon, which are located in fewer than 25 countries, the materials needed to build a dirty bomb can be found in thousands of hospitals, medical centers, research labs, and businesses in more than 150 countries. The most effective way to significantly reduce the threat of a radiological dispersal device, or dirty bomb, is, where feasible, to replace the radiological sources with safe, effective alternative technologies. For example, alternative x-ray technologies to replace cesium-137 blood irradiators are commercially available, offer equivalent medical outcomes, and have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There are approximately 850 cesium blood and research irradiators in the United States, with over 500 being cesium blood irradiators. Therefore, within the funds provided, the Committee recommends not less than $20,000,000 for the Cesium Irradiator Replacement Program. Furthermore, the Secretary is directed to submit to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress no later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this act a report on the Cesium Irradiator Replacement Program, including a description of progress to date in reducing the use of cesium–137 based irradiation devices; identification of the universe of cesium–137 devices, including the number, general location, and user type; a prioritization scheme for replacement of devices; and estimated annual funding needs to replace all devices within 10 years through the existing voluntary, cost-shared program with devices users.”
Domestic molybdenum-99 production
House: “The Committee recommends $27,400,000 for national laboratory support of domestic Mo-99 production using low enriched uranium (LEU) targets and international agreements for the conversion of research reactors to LEU fuels. Funds requested for the development of LEU fuels for U.S. and DOE-owned nuclear reactors are provided within Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation R&D, as in fiscal year 2017. The recommendation does not include $19,600,000 requested to support the final cost share amounts for Mo-99 projects since sufficient unencumbered prior-year funds exist. While the NNSA continues to request close-out of the domestic Mo-99 development program, the Committee encourages the NNSA to reconsider competitively awarding new cooperative agreements given the limited success of the NNSA’s program in establishing a secure domestic producer that does not use HEU.”
Senate: “Within Materials Management and Minimization, the Committee recommends $130,500,000 for Conversion, of which no less than $40,000,000 shall be for the Molybdenum-99 [Moly-99] program. The Committee continues to place a high priority on the development of domestic supplies of the medical isotope Moly-99 on a schedule adequate to meet public health needs. The Committee notes the need for ongoing encouragement of private sector production of Moly-99 without the use of highly enriched uranium. New entrants to the program, particularly those utilizing existing infrastructure at the national laboratories or other facilities, should be encouraged. In addition, the Committee has followed closely the progress of current cooperative agreement awardees and notes that a number of first-of-a-kind regulatory and technological issues have delayed and increased the cost of these projects. Therefore, the Secretary is directed to provide up to $35,000,000 or 50 percent of total project cost, consistent with American Medical Isotope Production Act provisions, whichever is less, in cost sharing funds for cooperative agreement awardees or award new cooperative agreements that leverage existing resources within the Department. Lastly, the NNSA shall ensure that its financial contributions to projects are made on a timely basis commensurate with the private parties’ expenditures. NNSA shall not delay payment of matching contributions simply to remain involved in the projects through completion.”
House: “Over the past several years, the DOE Inspector General has identified issues with the management and oversight of the indirect cost pools at the NNSA sites, including the use of general and administrative funds to conduct research into laser inertial fusion energy, improper use of licensing and royalty funds for a National Geographic documentary, improper payments for consultants not attributed to any scope of work, and hundreds of millions in questioned, unresolved and potentially unallowable costs.
Not later than 120 days after the enactment of this Act, the NNSA shall provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress a plan to reduce the rates of its overhead indirect cost pools at each site by at least five percent in aggregate by fiscal year 2020.”
Plutonium pit production
House: “04–D–125 Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) Replacement Project, LANL.—The Committee recommends $177,239,000. Funding for the CMR Replacement Project shall be limited to that of the original mission need for the project, that is, to relocate existing analytic chemistry and materials characterization capabilities from the legacy CMR facility, as directed in previous years. The Committee rejects the NNSA’s continued proposal to restructure this 15 year-old project into a rolling series of open ended ‘‘subprojects’’ that have no clear scope and mission need associated with them. The NNSA has not resolved issues detailed by the GAO on setting clear parameters and requirements when structuring its plutonium recapitalization projects. The Committee is also concerned by the NNSA’s recently announced plans to continue to operate the deteriorating CMR building instead of meeting its prior commitments to vacate the facility by 2019, despite the risks posed by the facility’s location on a possible seismic fault. Not later than 30 days after the enactment of this Act, the NNSA shall provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress a plan for vacating this facility as soon as possible that is not dependent on the NNSA’s success in meeting pit production targets.”
Integrated University Program
Senate: “The Committee directs the Secretary to carry out the requirements of 42 U.S.C. 16274a in support of university research and development in areas relevant to the NNSA’s mission. Within available funds, the Committee recommends not less than $5,000,000 for the Integrated University Program to cultivate the next generation of leaders in nonproliferation, nuclear security, and international security. Together with funds from the Office of Nuclear Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, this program ensures highly qualified nuclear specialists will be available to meet national needs. The Committee directs the Secretary to request funding for this program in future budget years, and specifically highlight the source of funds within the budget request. Further, funding for this program shall not come from prior year funds.
In addition to the Integrated University Program within Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, NNSA manages several university-related programs, ranging from fellowships and scholarships to university research. NNSA has not been able to provide a clear accounting of these various programs, and is directed to provide a report annually with the budget request that lists all of the university programs requested, the recommended funding level, and the value that program provides the NNSA.”
Commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing
House: “In 1977, President Carter issued a policy statement prohibiting the commercial reprocessing and recycling of plutonium. DOE shall investigate the status of this policy and report to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress on the impacts to the U.S. commercial nuclear power industry and whether it is in the U.S. national security interest to continue the policy.”
Future naval reactor systems
Senate: “Naval Reactors relies on high-enriched uranium from weapons that have been removed from the stockpile to fuel the Navy’s aircraft carriers and submarines. The Committee directs Naval Reactors to provide a report to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress on the long-term sustainability of high-enriched uranium for Naval Reactor Propulsion for the Navy. The report shall include any impacts that may arise from changes to the shipbuilding plan under consideration and any outcomes of the Nuclear Posture Review. The report shall be provided within 60 days after completion of the Nuclear Posture Review.”
“The Committee directs Naval Reactors to provide a report to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress by June 1, 2018, on its plans to design improved fuel systems. The report shall include any planned efforts to design a low enriched uranium fuel system, including the linkage between any planned future fuel system and a Navy fleet requirement. The report shall also discuss planned needs and schedule for irradiation testing and post irradiation examination.”