The fiscal year 2019 spending bills for the National Nuclear Security Administration advanced by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees reject the Trump administration’s deep proposed cuts to fusion research, accept its request to develop a new low-yield nuclear weapon, and split on whether to continue construction of a plutonium conversion facility that it wants to terminate.
Following the 13 percent budget increase enacted for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration for fiscal year 2018, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have approved spending legislation that would provide smaller increases in fiscal year 2019. The House bill would raise NNSA’s overall budget by 4 percent to $15.3 billion, while the Senate bill would raise it by 1 percent.
Both bills would provide essentially flat funding overall for the $2 billion Weapons Activities Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation (RDT&E) account. These funds support the Stockpile Stewardship Program, through which NNSA’s three national laboratories certify, in the absence of explosive nuclear testing, whether U.S. nuclear warheads remain reliable.
In the legislation, appropriators stake out positions on a number of controversial issues. Both committees reject the Trump administration’s deep proposed cuts to the Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program and both accept its request to develop a new nuclear weapon with a low explosive yield. They diverge on whether to continue the construction of the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, a multi-billion dollar project to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium that NNSA plans to terminate.
More detailed figures for selected accounts are available in FYI’s Federal Science Budget Tracker. Additional funding and policy guidance can be found in the House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports, and a side-by-side comparison of report language is included in the web version of this bulletin.
Appropriators defend high energy density physics programs
Much of the administration’s proposed cut of over 20 percent to the ICF program would come from scaling back funding for the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and withdrawing support over a three-year period for the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester, which hosts the OMEGA Laser Facility.
The committees explain they rejected the cuts on the grounds that ICF facilities are critical components of the Stockpile Stewardship Program and provide broader benefits. The Senate report states the ICF program “continues to be a critical and essential component of nuclear stockpile certification without underground nuclear weapons testing, maintaining U.S. leadership in high energy density physics and laser technologies, and developing the next-generation workforce.”
Although the House report permits small cuts to both facilities and directs NNSA to recoup operation costs from NIF users, it nevertheless endorses the overall ICF program, stating,
While progress in achieving ignition at the National Ignition Facility has been slow, the value of maintaining a robust research program in high energy density physics will continue to be recognized and strongly supported.
The House report specifies $330 million for NIF and $68 million for OMEGA, the same amounts they received in fiscal year 2017. The Senate report specifies $344 million for NIF, equal to the fiscal year 2018 level, and $80 million for OMEGA, a 7 percent increase.
The committees also defend the $9 million High Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas program, which the administration proposed to zero out. Both specify that the program should receive level funding on the grounds that it addresses a “critical need for skilled graduates to replace an aging workforce,” although the House report moves its budget from ICF to the Science program.
(Image credit - Jason Laurea/LLNL)
Low-yield warhead funding included despite Democrats’ objections
The administration requested $65 million to develop the new low-yield submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missile called for in its Nuclear Posture Review released in February. Both committee reports provide the requested amount for this effort, which is called the W76-2 warhead modification program.
Although the U.S. currently has low-yield nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the administration argues that an additional variant is needed to further deter adversaries from ever employing nuclear weapons. The top Democratic appropriators for DOE, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), both objected to including funding for the new warhead. Kaptur argued that Congress has not had enough time to fully consider the ramifications of developing such a weapon, and Feinstein argued that adding low-yield weapons to the nation’s arsenal would lower the threshold to starting a nuclear war.
Democrats in both committees unsuccessfully offered amendments to divert the $65 million to other activities in the agency. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), the top House Republican appropriator for DOE, opposed the amendment but said that he “shares some of the concerns” raised by Democrats and plans to hold a hearing on the proposal.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, noted that his committee has been debating the proposal through its development of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for this year. He argued that appropriators should not provide funds for the new warhead unless it is authorized through the NDAA.
The House-passed version of the NDAA would authorize its development and repeal a requirement that NNSA secure explicit congressional approval before beginning the engineering development phase for low-yield weapons. The Senate version, released this week, would loosen the congressional approval requirement. Reed has said Senate Democrats plan to push back on this provision during floor debate on the bill.
Plutonium disposal and production proposals prompt pushback
The fates of facilities to dispose of surplus weapons-grade plutonium and produce new plutonium cores for nuclear weapons became intertwined this year. Last month, DOE invoked a legislative provision that permits the department to cease construction of the MOX facility in South Carolina, which was intended to convert plutonium into usable fuel for nuclear reactors but became mired in delays and ballooning costs.
The Senate report provides $220 million to proceed with closing out the project, but the House report provides $335 million to continue construction of the facility, although it reiterates DOE’s ability to execute the termination clause.
DOE and the Department of Defense have proposed to repurpose the MOX facility to produce plutonium pits, which are the cores of nuclear weapons. Currently, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico is the only place in the nation that is capable of producing these pits. DOE is statutorily required to ramp up production to 80 pits per year by 2030 to replace aging ones currently installed in warheads. The proposal would split future pit production between the MOX site and Los Alamos, although it would maintain the latter as the nation’s “plutonium center of excellence for research and development.”
These actions have drawn the ire of lawmakers from South Carolina and New Mexico. All but one member of the New Mexico congressional delegation issued a joint statement arguing that Los Alamos should remain the sole pit production site. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argues that the MOX proposal is unsound and an attempt to mollify opponents of terminating the MOX facility. During committee debate on the bill, Graham remarked, “Nobody envisioned [MOX] to be used for pit production. That’s problematic at best — more designed to please me than anything else.”
The committee reports have a number of other provisions pertaining to plutonium production. Among them, the Senate report directs NNSA to task the JASON scientific advisory panel with assessing the agency’s efforts to understand how plutonium pits age. It would also require NNSA to submit an estimate to Congress of the “minimum and likely lifetimes for pits in current warheads and the feasibility of reusing pits in modified nuclear weapons.”
If it is determined that pits have sufficient longevity, ramping up production of new ones could be postponed until later in the century. A previous JASON report estimated that most types of pits “have credible minimum lifetimes in excess of 100 years.” However, Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Terry Wallace has said he “disagrees significantly” with JASON’s assessment.
(Image credit – STRATCOM)
Selected other provisions
Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments (ECSE). The House and Senate diverge sharply on the administration’s proposal to ramp up an initiative to develop capabilities for imaging the late stages of plutonium implosions. The House report would provide only $20 million of the requested $118 million on the grounds that NNSA inaccurately claimed the project had reached the milestone known as Critical Decision-1, at which the design scope and cost ranges are set. “Rather, significant portions of the technology are reported to be at low technology readiness levels,” the report states, directing that the $20 million should go toward advancing the necessary technologies. The Senate report specifies $80 million and is otherwise silent on the project.
Stockpile Responsiveness Program. Both committees support the recently launched Stockpile Responsiveness Program, which is designed to complement the Stockpile Stewardship Program by providing scientists and engineers opportunities to exercise the full set of skills required to modify and develop nuclear weapons. The Senate report nearly matches the administration’s requested $34 million, while the House report specifies $55 million.
Nuclear nonproliferation R&D. The House report specifies $520 million for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation R&D program while the Senate report specifies $487 million, down from the current level of $557 million. The House report specifies that no funds should go toward converting two DOE research reactors to use low enriched uranium fuel instead of highly enriched fuel, which poses proliferation concerns. The report states that converting the Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory and the High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is unnecessary because they are located in highly secure facilities. Both reports specify that $10 million should go toward developing low enriched fuels for naval applications, $5 million above the amount specified in the final appropriations agreement for fiscal year 2018.
Infrastructure maintenance and recapitalization. The House proposes to keep funding for maintenance and repair of NNSA facilities at the elevated level of $515 million to “sustain momentum on reducing the backlog of deferred maintenance and to carry out cost accounting changes needed to ensure direct funding of maintenance at the NNSA’s national laboratories and other sites.” The Senate proposes halving this budget to $250 million. The House also proposes to keep the budget for facility recapitalization projects steady at $613 million, while the Senate proposes a 31 percent reduction to $425 million.
The following expandable tabs offer side-by-side comparisons of language from the House and Senate appropriators' reports on their respective bills. This language details funding proposals, policy guidance, and the appropriators' views on different research programs.
House: The Department is directed to undertake a review of the manning for the NNSA’s Office of General Counsel and the NNSA’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs to determine whether those functions could be combined with the Department of Energy’s Office of the General Counsel and the Department of Energy’s Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs to eliminate duplication. The Department shall report the results of its review to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress not later 90 days after the enactment of this Act.
The report shall include the Department’s recommendations as well as potential savings in full time equivalent (FTE) NNSA employee allocations that the NNSA could otherwise assign to meet its needs for additional programmatic personnel under existing legislative caps. The review shall include consideration of transfer of Overseas Presence personnel that perform Department-wide duties and are funded via the Department’s Working Capital Fund, but that currently count against the NNSA personnel caps on FTE staff.
Senate: The NNSA Act clearly lays out the functions of the NNSA, and gives the Administrator authority over, and responsibility for, those functions. No funds shall be used to reorganize, reclassify, or study combining any of those functions with the Department. Funds may be used to evaluate any other function not specifically listed as an NNSA function in the NNSA Act, such as a chief scientist or office of policy.
Overhead cost reduction
House: The Committee expects the NNSA to take prompt action to reduce the size of the overhead and administrative costs that are being charged to its programmatic activities, as directed in the fiscal year 2018 Act. The Committee is awaiting the receipt of required reports on the Department’s indirect cost pools and a plan by the NNSA to reduce the size of the administrative and other overhead charges levied on its major nuclear modernization programs. None of the funds shall be used for an Institutional Plant Project that is funded through an indirect cost pool of an NNSA site.
The recommendation provides robust direct funding for the NNSA’s infrastructure needs, and the Committee will consider funding infrastructure investments through the site indirect cost pools after receipt of the outstanding reporting requirements. The NNSA is directed to provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act a report that accounts for the number of personnel at NNSA sites whose costs are entirely funded through site indirect cost pools.
Infrastructure recapitalization and maintenance
House: The Committee is concerned that, in order to pay for the projected costs of its major nuclear modernization programs, the NNSA is undercutting the investments needed to address the entirety of its aging infrastructure problems and to build a nuclear weapons workforce that possesses the skills and knowledge needed to design, develop, test, and manufacture warheads, as endorsed in the Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review.
As the costs of the major modernization programs continue to increase, the NNSA must take concerted action to prevent cost growth associated with underperforming and poorly scoped activities. The recommendation provides additional funding above the request to continue the current pace of infrastructure recapitalization efforts across the nuclear security enterprise, including efforts to reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance and to upgrade physical security systems to improve the security posture of the NNSA sites.
Inertial Confinement Fusion
House: The recommendation rejects the NNSA’s request to discontinue major experimental activities within the ICF program. Funds provided to the ICF program support unique experimental platforms that help assess the state of the current stockpile and enable decisions on life extension programs without underground nuclear weapons testing. While progress in achieving ignition at the National Ignition Facility has been slow, the value of maintaining a robust research program in high energy density physics will continue to be recognized and strongly supported.
To ensure that funds provided will be used to adequately maintain the NNSA’s experimental capabilities as intended, the recommendation includes new funding controls within the ICF program for the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Z Pulsed Power Facility at Sandia National Laboratories, and the Omega Laser Facility at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. Within funds for High Energy Density R&D, the recommendation includes funding for research and support activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory, target fabrication, and not less than $8,000,000 for the Nike Laser at the Naval Research Laboratory.
While the Committee continues to support the full utilization of ICF experimental facilities, the Committee also recognizes the need to save costs to ensure adequate funding for high priority stockpile modernization activities. The NNSA is directed to pursue full cost recovery for all users at the National Ignition Facility as previously recommended by the Department of Defense Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and to ensure that all users are transitioned to a full cost recovery model by fiscal year 2020.
Senate: The Committee finds that the Inertial Confinement Fusion and High Yield [ICF] program continues to be a critical and essential component of nuclear stockpile certification without underground nuclear weapons testing, maintaining U.S. leadership in high energy density physics and laser technologies, and developing the next-generation workforce. Therefore, the Committee recommends $544,934,000 for the ICF program.
Within available funds, the Committee recommends $344,000,000 for inertial confinement fusion activities at the National Ignition Facility, $63,100,000 is recommended for Sandia National Laboratory’s Z facility, and $80,000,000 is recommended for the University of Rochester’s Omega facility. Within available funds for facility operations and other amounts, the Committee recommends not less than $30,000,000 for target research, development, and production.
To ensure a robust, diverse, and competitive vendor base for targets, the Committee directs the NNSA to compete as much scope as practicable and limit sole-source contracts to $15,000,000 or less. The Committee further encourages continued research by the NNSA in High Energy Density Plasmas and recognizes the partnerships between the laboratories and research universities to address the critical need for skilled graduates to replace an aging workforce at our NNSA laboratories.
Advanced Simulation and Computing
House: Within amounts for Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC), the recommendation includes $20,000,000 to continue research on advanced memory technology to address future architecture technical challenges. The Committee is concerned that the increased costs of the Exascale Computing Initiative compared to previous high performance computing (HPC) efforts are not transparently presented because the NNSA’s budget request contains inadequate detail on the cost of its HPC procurements. In its fiscal year 2020 budget request, the NNSA shall submit a budget justification for ASC that clearly details funding amounts requested for base research and development activities, operations, procurements, and the Exascale Computing Initiative.
While the NNSA’s next generation of HPC systems are major acquisitions, the Committee is concerned that the NNSA’s procurement decisions have not been derived by conducting a thorough analysis of alternatives that will meet a set of clearly identified threshold requirements. The NNSA is directed to provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act an analysis of alternatives for the NNSA’s HPC acquisitions that clearly maps future system requirements to stockpile needs, compares costs and benefits of various alternatives, and provides a justification for the NNSA’s preferred alternative.
The Committee directs the Comptroller General to undertake a review of the NNSA’s management of the ASC program to evaluate the NNSA’s process for setting requirements and evaluating alternatives for the ASC program and to identify the estimated costs of the NNSA’s future systems compared to previous HPC acquisitions.
Senate: The Committee recommends $703,404,000 for advanced simulation and computing. Within available funds, the Committee recommends not less than $163,000,000 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. Within funds provided, the Committee recommends up to $13,000,000 for work on integration of artificial intelligence approaches into mechanistic modeling and prediction.
Enhanced Capabilities for Subcritical Experiments
House: The recommendation does not include funding requested for the Advanced Sources and Detectors Major Item of Equipment (MIE). DOE project management reports indicate the NNSA has not yet achieved Critical Decision-1 (CD–1) for this MIE, despite the NNSA’s budget justification that lists CD–1 as a fiscal year 2017 achievement. Rather, significant portions of the technology are reported to be at low technology readiness levels and need to be advanced prior to the issuance of CD–1. The recommendation includes $20,000,000 to continue to advance technologies needed for the MIE. The NNSA is directed to submit a project data sheet for the Advanced Sources and Detectors MIE with the scope, cost, and schedule for carrying out this project clearly presented in its fiscal year 2020 budget request.
Academic Alliances and Partnerships
House: Within Academic Alliances and Partnerships, not less than $20,000,000 shall be for the Minority Serving Institution Partnerships Program and not less than $9,000,000 shall be for academic grants for high energy density laboratory plasmas previously funded within the Inertial Confinement Fusion Ignition and High Yield program. The Committee supports continued research into high energy density plasmas and recognizes the partnerships between the national laboratories and research universities to address the critical need for skilled graduates to replace an aging workforce.
Senate: The Committee recognizes the importance of the Academic Alliances and Partnerships program in supporting fundamental science and technology research at universities that support stockpile stewardship, the development of the next generation of highly-trained workforce, and the maintenance of a strong network of independent technical peers. The Committee is also aware of the expertise provided to the NNSA by academic alliances and the centers of excellence program. The Committee encourages the NNSA to fund new centers of excellence, especially in the field of materials under extreme conditions research. The Committee recommends $53,364,000. Within this amount, not less than $20,000,000 is recommended for the Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program, within which not less than $2,000,000 is recommended for Tribal Colleges and Universities.
House: Stockpile Responsiveness Program.—The recommendation includes additional funding above the budget request for the congressionally-mandated Stockpile Responsiveness Program.
Senate: The Committee recommends $22,500,000 to complete the recapitalization of the Microsystems and Engineering Sciences Applications silicon fabrication facility, consistent with the budget request. The Committee also supports increased investment in Enhanced Surety in recognition of new threats and the challenges maintaining readiness on aging systems. Within the available funding, $5,000,000 is recommended for next-generation technology development for warhead system certification and the protection against theft/loss and terrorism incident.
Plutonium pit lifetime study
Senate: The Committee directs the Administrator to enter into a contract with the group known as JASON for a study to assess the efforts of the NNSA to understand plutonium aging and the lifetime of plutonium pits in nuclear weapons. The Administrator shall make available all information that is necessary to successfully complete a meaningful study on a timely basis. Not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this act, the Administrator shall submit to Congress a report on the findings of the study. The report shall include recommendations of the study for improving the knowledge, understanding, and application of the fundamental and applied sciences related to the study of plutonium aging and pit lifetimes, an estimate of minimum and likely lifetimes for pits in current warheads, and the feasibility of reusing pits in modified nuclear weapons. The report shall be submitted in unclassified form but may include a classified annex.
Plutonium pit production
House: While the NNSA was directed in the fiscal year 2017 and 2018 Acts to request funding to meet additional plutonium infrastructure mission needs under a new and separate project that could be clearly presented for consideration, the NNSA’s fiscal year 2019 budget request does not contain such a project and continues to disregard Congressional direction to remove specific scope from the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement project that was in excess of the scope originally authorized by Congress.
The NNSA’s five year budget plans include approximately $4,000,000,000 for unspecified activities within Plutonium Sustainment to achieve long-term pit production capacity targets. The specific activities and total costs needed to achieve these targets are not described, and a management plan with near-term milestones for carrying out this significant multi-year effort are not presented. The NNSA’s continued inability to produce a transparent plan to establish a pit production capability that includes a resource-loaded schedule that can be independently verified for reasonableness creates significant concerns.
The recommendation establishes a new construction project within Infrastructure and Operations that shall be utilized to carry out any capital improvements and equipment installations that are needed at Los Alamos National Laboratory to meet plutonium mission needs. Not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act, the NNSA shall provide to the Committees on Appropriations a report that describes in detail the scope, costs, and schedule, with near term milestones for any capital improvements needed, to meet its plutonium mission needs.
04–D-125 Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) Replacement Project, LANL.—As directed by Congress in the fiscal year 2018 Act and previous years, 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.
Senate: Within available funds, NNSA is directed to contract with a third-party federally-Funded Research and Development Corporation to conduct an independent assessment of the NNSA’s decision to conduct pit production operations at two sites. NNSA shall identify and execute a contract with an independent FFRDC, not directly involved in plutonium pit production, not later than 60 days after enactment of this a act. NNSA shall not proceed with conceptual design activities for the recently announced preferred alternative until an FFRDC is under contract. The assessment shall include an analysis of the four options evaluated in the recent Plutonium Pit Production Engineering Assessment, all identified risks, engineering requirements, workforce development requirements, and other factors considered. The FFRDC shall submit its report to the Committees on Appropriations of both the Houses of Congress not later than 210 days after enactment of this act.
Low-yield nuclear weapon
House: The recommendation also provides funding requested for a new modification to the W76 warhead to achieve a lower-yield capability for that system and to initiate phase 6.1 efforts on a life extension or replacement of the W78 warhead.
W76-2 Modification Program.—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 report detailing the plan, rationale, costs, and implications of producing a low-yield variant of the W76 warhead. The report shall include the cost and schedule estimates for the engineering phase, and any subsequent phase, of the W76-2 modification program; detailed discussion of the military requirements associated with the W76-2, including Nuclear Weapons Council decisions and U.S. Strategic Command requirements; estimated long-term maintenance costs; impacts on other current or planned warhead programs; impacts on the planned cost and schedule in the event of a time delay in the engineering phase, or any subsequent phase, of the W76-2; and impacts on other current or planned warhead programs in the event of a time delay in the W76-2 modification program.
Use of insensitive high explosives in warheads
House: W78 Life Extension Program.—The Committee is concerned that the NNSA is proceeding with a premature decision to replace the W78 with an interoperable warhead based on a stockpile strategy that was not endorsed in the Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review and that was not funded by the Congress when first proposed under the previous Administration. The NNSA has not resolved major technical issues identified by the JASONs Defense Advisory Group in 2015 associated with modifying existing warheads to achieve interoperability or to increase the usage of insensitive high explosives (IHE) in the stockpile. Specifically, the JASONs found that these warhead modifications may result in sub-optimal designs and may force a reduction in design yield margins.
The rationale for converting warheads from CHE to IHE is not clear considering the technical risks, the high costs involved, and the current lack of a pit production capability that could produce such warheads in quantities needed for the stockpile. The NNSA carried out a Pit Manufacturing and Certification Campaign to restore the capability to manufacture and certify up to ten plutonium pits per year from 1996 to 2007. However, the NNSA never demonstrated production at full capacity and lost the limited capacity it had built due to safety missteps that shut down plutonium operations in the PF–4 facility for several years. The NNSA hopes to achieve a far greater production capacity over the same period of time. Given the NNSA’s past performance, any nuclear modernization program that relies on the successful establishment of a near-term pit production capacity should be considered by the Administration to be a high-risk endeavor and a program that does not rely on pit production should be pursued in parallel to ensure stockpile needs will continue to be met.
In lieu of the request to begin phase 6.2 activities for an interoperable warhead to replace the W78, the recommendation provides funding to begin a phase 6.1 study to fully analyze all available alternatives for the W78 warhead. Upon conclusion of phase 6.1 efforts and prior to initiation of phase 6.2 efforts, the NNSA shall provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress a report that compares the costs associated with replacing the W78 warhead with an IHE design that may require new pit manufacturing to the costs of extending the life of the W78. The report shall include a detailed description of the comparative costs that may be needed to upgrade Department of Defense facilities to continue to safely handle CHE or that otherwise may reduce drivers for replacing CHE warheads with IHE.
Domestic uranium enrichment
House: The recommendation provides $100,704,000. Within these funds, not less than $25,000,000 is for continued research, operation, and further advancement of gas centrifuge technology. The Committee supports continued operations and testing of gas centrifuge technology to further advance the technology and to maintain the specialty expertise and operational proficiency that will be necessary to meet future U.S. defense and non-defense needs for enriched uranium.
Senate: The Department’s approved Mission Need Statement [MNS] for Domestic Uranium Enrichment states that in 2014–2015, the American Centrifuge Plant had successfully completed its mission of providing reliability and operational data. The Department’s research and development on small centrifuges has not yet reached that level of maturity. The MNS also stated that the cost range to enrich uranium using AC–100 would cost approximately twice as much as using small centrifuges. The Committee is concerned that the Department lacks a credible plan to obtain adequate data on small centrifuge operations to complete the Analysis of Alternatives for uranium enrichment as scheduled. The Committee recommends $50,000,000 for Domestic Uranium Enrichment, including not more than $5,000,000 for research, development, and demonstration of AC–100 and not less than $45,000,000 for research, development and demonstration of small centrifuges. No funds are recommended for uranium downblending within this account
Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation
MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility
House: The Committee recommends $335,000,000 to sustain the current pace of construction on the MOX facility in fiscal year 2019. The bill contains a provision to allow the Secretary of Energy to terminate the project if requirements in Section 3121(b) of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act are satisfied.
Senate: The Committee recommends $220,000,000 for closeout costs associated with the termination of MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility construction, consistent with the budget request and the Secretary’s waiver to terminate the project.
Senate: Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.—The Department proposes to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] in New Mexico. The Department is directed to work cooperatively with the State of New Mexico, recognizing the limits in the Land Withdrawal Act and New Mexico’s status as an independent regulator of the WIPP facility. Further, no later than February 1, 2019, the Department shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress, a plan for obtaining all necessary final state and Federal permits; acquiring independent scientific and technical review of dilute and dispose processes and waste forms to ensure compliance with waste acceptance criteria; defining any legislative changes necessary to accommodate this material and the existing WIPP waste inventory; and outlining any necessary design and construction modifications to the current facility, including cost and schedule impacts of any modifications needed to WIPP facilities or for developing additional repositories.
House: The recommendation includes $7,500,000 for the research and development of technologies to advance stable isotope, actinides, and other radioisotope production using novel techniques to support nonproliferation goals, including identification and characterization of foreign nuclear weapons programs.
Nonproliferation Fuels Development.—The recommendation includes separate funding to develop fuels to advance U.S. nonproliferation goals within DNN R&D. The NNSA is directed to utilize this budget structure in future budget requests. The recommendation includes up to $10,000,000 for research and development of low-enriched uranium fuels suitable for naval applications. The recommendation does not include funds to convert the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) at Idaho National Laboratory or the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The NNSA estimates its program to convert five research reactors will cost approximately $1,100,000,000 and that, even at this cost, the ATR and HFIR reactors would not be converted until at least the 2030s. These reactors and their fuels are located in highly secure facilities on Department of Energy sites that have safe storage for significant quantities of nuclear materials. With no plans to otherwise remove nuclear materials from those sites, there are few benefits to proceeding with a costly effort to convert those reactors. Rather than allocate limited defense funding to conversion, the recommendation prioritizes funding to extend the life of these facilities and to upgrade safety and security postures at those sites within the respective infrastructure funding lines.
Senate: The Committee recommends $487,270,000 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 supports continued research and development of novel enrichment technologies to support nonproliferation goals, and recommends $7,500,000 for this purpose. The Committee also supports exploration and development of material disposal technologies, and recommends up to $10,000,000 for this purpose.
Low-enriched uranium for naval applications
House: The recommendation includes up to $10,000,000 for research and development of low-enriched uranium fuels suitable for naval applications.
Senate: Within available funds for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development, the Committee recommends $10,000,000 for Advanced Low Enriched Uranium Fuel Research and Development for the national laboratories to develop low-enriched fuels that could replace highly enriched uranium for naval applications. Consistent with section 7319 of title 10, United States Code, this funding is recommended within the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account. This work shall be managed within Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation.
Domestic Mo-99 production
House: Laboratory and Partnership Support.—The recommendation for Laboratory and Partnership Support includes $3,100,000 above the budget request to provide technical support to industry partners seeking to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium in Mo-99 production.
Since the enactment of the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2012, the NNSA has invested $100,000,000 of taxpayer funding with the goal of fielding a stable, domestic commercial supply of Mo-99 without the use of highly enriched uranium, but has only made limited gains on that investment. Recent foreign facility outages have resulted in additional shortages, indicating the U.S. supply remains vulnerable to supply chain disruptions caused by aging production facilities. The recommendation includes an additional $20,000,000 for a new funding opportunity directed in the fiscal year 2018 Act. The Committee encourages the NNSA to utilize advice from other Department of Energy programs with experience in fielding advanced technologies to the commercial sector to better evaluate potential projects to ensure that additional funds are awarded to projects that are likely to provide a stable, long-term domestic supply of this important medical isotope
Radiological assistance program
House: The Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) is a critical activity that plays a major role in our nation’s ability to detect, deter, and respond to a domestic nuclear or radiological incident. The Committee supports the Department’s efforts to modernize mission critical equipment that has exceeded its useful life. It is imperative that response teams possess the best available technology to carry out their missions. The Committee urges the Department to move forward expeditiously with the RAP critical equipment modernization and provide the Committee with a timeline for this effort. High priority equipment recapitalization needs for this program include hand-held, high resolution, spectroscopic measurement instrumentation which is used to specifically identify nuclear threat materials.
Nuclear fuel reprocessing
House: Commercial Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing.—In 1977, President Carter issued a presidential policy statement prohibiting the commercial reprocessing and recycling of plutonium. The Committee awaits submission of requirements in the fiscal year 2018 Act for the Department to investigate the status of this policy and provide a report to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress.
[Bill language:] Sec. 310. (a) Report.—The Secretary of Energy shall submit to Congress and the State of Nevada a report on the potential of locating a reprocessing or recycling facility for spent nuclear fuel near the Yucca Mountain site. (b) Contents.—The Secretary shall include in the report required under subsection (a) a description of—
(1) the energy technology benefits associated with a reprocessing or recycling facility for spent nuclear fuel; (2) the potential economic benefits for the host community associated with such a facility, including employment, infrastructure development, and workforce development benefits; (3) the energy and national security implications for the supply and availability of nuclear fuel associated with such a facility; and (4) the potential for locating other nuclear fuel cycle facilities near the Yucca Mountain site, such as an enrichment facility for national defense purposes.
Seismic assessments and instruments
House: Within the Office of Nuclear Safety, the Committee directs the Department to continue its research into developing an advanced simulation tool that can more realistically predict the nonlinear response of critical nuclear facilities during earthquakes. With many mission critical facilities in seismically active regions, this research is in our nation’s vital interest.
Senate: Several U.S. Government agencies reduce the costs of seismic research by utilizing shared-use instruments instead of owning, operating, and maintaining their own equipment. The Committee directs that within 180 days after enactment of this act, the NNSA shall submit a report to Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress on the cost-effectiveness of establishing an agreement between the Department and one or more instrument centers to maintain and provide shared use of any instruments the Department acquires, rather than the Department doing so internally.