AP NEWS

LANL would benefit from Trump budget plan on nukes

March 12, 2019

The Trump administration wants to give the Department of Energy nearly $32 billion for the next fiscal year — more than half allocated to “aggressively modernize” the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal and improve infrastructure at national nuclear installations, including Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The U.S. government has been ramping up nuclear spending for the last several years. But the budget proposal for 2020, released Monday, represents a potential 11 percent cut to the Department of Energy’s funding, with much of the reduction coming at the expense of non-nuclear energy programs.

According to the administration’s budget proposal, more than $5 billion would be cut from non-nuclear funding, including electricity transmission projects and new energy technologies research. At the same time, $1.4 billion would be added to the budget of National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear science and development arm of the agency, an 8 percent increase.

“While the investments in American’s nuclear weapons are large, given their importance in keeping America safe, the investments should be regarded as both necessary and affordable,” the budget document reads.

The document serves as the first step in fiscal and political negotiations between the White House and Congress on department priorities over the coming year.

New Mexico’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, shredded the overall Trump budget plan.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, called it “morally bankrupt,” saying it supports corporate gain over American programs.

“This is not a responsible vision for the country,” he said.

Sen. Tom Udall, said Congress “must reject this budget outright.”

In a statement, Udall said the proposal for the Department of Energy and across government would harm renewable energy and environmental programs, adding Trump’s plans for defense spending represented an abuse of the budget process.

“Instead of investing in programs that will help fight climate change and address the growing threat of natural disasters, the president is proposing massive cuts to science and clean energy research and development,” Udall said, adding “Actual defense programs, including those at New Mexico’s national labs and military facilities, need ongoing budget certainty that this funding gimmick cannot provide.”

The nuclear funding would have implications for New Mexico.

The budget funnels money into improving infrastructure at Los Alamos, where many buildings are decades old, and directs the laboratory to dilute weapons-grade plutonium, which could then be sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

The government has been moving towards a “dilute and dispose” approach for plutonium after plans to recycle the nuclear material at the unfinished Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina as part of an international agreement with Russia fell through.

Funding for nuclear weapons programs at Los Alamos has already led to an influx in hiring. The lab is gearing up for a massive weapons production project that would have it create dozens of plutonium pits — the grapefruit-sized fission cores used to trigger nuclear weapons — per year by 2026.

However, independent safety experts have said lab facilities still require significant infrastructure upgrades before such operations could meet safety standards. Completing this work, they contend, is years off.

“The President’s budget request reflects the Trump Administration’s strong commitment to ensuring that U.S. nuclear capabilities are second to none,” NNSA administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said in a statement. “This vital funding will enable us to continue modernization of the Nuclear Security Enterprise to face 21st century threats.”

The Department of Energy budget also would have the government divest from federally funded power transmission assets in favor of privatization; cut a popular early-stage research program, ARPA-E, which explores new ways to generate, store and use new energy; and eliminates the Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program, which provides loans for energy and economic development on tribal land.

These programs are “costly, wasteful or duplicative,” according to the budget document.

The budget proposal also calls for a slight cut in funding for cleaning up environmental contamination left by nuclear work from the Manhattan Project and Cold War, from $6.6 billion down to $6.5 billion this fiscal year. It would allocate $22 million less to decommission high-risk facilities across the country that pose a threat to human health and the environment.