Marylia Kelley / San Francisco Chrnoicle – 2012-02-16 00:00:08
LIVERMORE, CA (February 15, 2012) — While most federal agencies are being placed on an austerity diet, the Obama administration’s 2013 budget for nuclear weapons activities is more than last year’s appropriation and 20 percent higher than President Reagan’s largest nuclear weapons budget at the height of the Cold War, adjusted for inflation. If fully funded, Obama’s budget will be the biggest nuclear weapons budget in our nation’s history.
President Obama firmly declared “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” in his 2009 Prague address. The world, including me, cheered. But, Mr. President, this is not a budget that implements our solemn commitment.
It’s time for congressional Democrats and Republicans alike to sharpen the budget ax.
Nationwide, the Department of Energy’s budget requests three times more for nuclear weapons activities than energy efficiency and renewables work.
Locally, the budget for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of our nation’s three nuclear weapon research labs, reflects the same unfortunate trend — more money for bombs and less for clean energy research and development. Some 88 percent of the Livermore lab-funding request is for managing the research and manufacture of nuclear weapons.
The biggest chunk goes to the National Ignition Facility, a mega-laser that was designed to push the envelope on weapons physics, provide a test bed for simulating a nuclear war fighting environment and develop fusion energy, according to the lab’s institutional plan. It was supposed to achieve thermonuclear ignition in 2003, then in 2010, and now in 2012, though government officials and scientists deem it unlikely. This boondoggle has already cost taxpayers $7 billion. Yet, the budget would lavish an additional $460 million on that failed effort.
The Livermore lab budget seeks to allocate:
* 8 percent to stem global nuclear nonproliferation,
* 3 percent for science,
* 1 percent for renewable energy research.
This funding profile reveals an outmoded institution, clinging to a Cold War heyday and ill-suited to a leadership role in this century’s economic and political realities. Will Congress shake it up – or continue to throw good money after bad?
Similar questions should be asked at other Department of Energy sites. At Oak Ridge, Tenn., the request to fund an oversized uranium processing facility is more than double last year’s appropriated level, and estimates for its construction top $6 billion. What is required is a smaller, less expensive facility focused on the nation’s unmet need for dismantling uranium components in retired H-bombs.
At the Savannah River, S.C., site, the department is poised to spend $7 billion on an ill-conceived plan to put plutonium in fuel rods for use in nuclear power plants, although no companies have agreed to accept them.
One bright spot: The budget zeroes out funding to build another plutonium bomb factory at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and delays the project for five years. However, according to the request, “in place of” the delayed Los Alamos facility, the department has “options to share workload between other plutonium-capable facilities at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.” This statement should set off alarm bells throughout the Bay Area.
The Livermore lab’s plutonium facility is uniquely vulnerable. In a test, mock terrorists were able to access the site’s nuclear material and detonate a “radiological device.” Since then, the Department of Energy has been moving plutonium from the Livermore lab to more secure locations.
In fact, the budget request touts the removal as an achievement and notes the department will save $52 million next year by lowering the level of Livermore’s security. Does the department plan to simultaneously downgrade Livermore’s security and ship plutonium there from Los Alamos? A congressional investigation is needed before any plutonium is put on the highway to California.
Fortunately, our senators are well placed to tackle this investigation and trim the fat from the Department of Energy budget hog. Sen. Dianne Feinstein chairs the appropriations subcommittee that writes the department’s budget. Sen. Barbara Boxer sits on the environmental committee that monitors pollution at Department of Energy sites, including Livermore. Moreover, several members of the Bay Area’s congressional delegation hold influential committee positions. Let’s make sure they hear from us on these important federal spending and safety issues.
Marylia Kelley is the executive director at Tri-Valley CAREs, a Livermore Lab watchdog organization founded in 1983.
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