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Lawrence Livermore National Lab's 2017 Budget Request: $1 Billion-plus for More Nuclear Bombs


February 12, 2016
Marylia Kelley / TriValleyCAREs

The White House's Fiscal Year 2017 Federal Budget proposal was released this week. Tri-Valley CAREs, a California-based watchdog organization, has released its latest annual pie chart of the US Department of Energy Budget Request for the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (located east of San Francisco). Nuclear Weapons Activities comprise 86% of the request while science is less than 3%. "We have A LOT of work to do. We must change our government's priorities."

Special to Environmentalist Against War

Lawrence Livermore National Lab's 2017 Budget Request: $1 Billion-plus for More Nuclear Bombs
Marylia Kelley / TriValleyCAREs

LIVERMORE, Calif. (February 9, 2016) -- Today, the Fiscal Year 2017 Federal Budget was released. Below is Tri-Valley CAREs' annual pie chart of the US Department of Energy Budget Request for Livermore Lab. Nuclear Weapons Activities comprise 86% of the request while Science is less than 3%. We have A LOT of work to do. We must change our government's priorities.



LLNL's Nuclear Weapons Pork and the FY 2016 Budget

Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' Spring 2015 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration transmitted its Fiscal Year 2016 budget request for nuclear weapons to Congress. It contains an 11.2% increase in funding for the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) nuclear weapons programs.

At Livermore Lab, the budget request is for over a billion dollars, with more than 85% going into nuclear weapons activities. (Details at http://trivalleycares.org/new/2016Nuke_Budget and the blog above it.)

This funding level exceeds the peak years of the Cold War. The total number of warheads in the US arsenal is now about 7,000. Make no mistake; the requested funds are not to dismantle them. The money will upgrade and "modernize" the warheads and the nuclear weapons complex that designs and produces them.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates this "modernization" will cost $348 billion in the coming
 ten years, with even higher costs to follow. Thus, the US is planning to spend $1 Trillion over thirty years, including on new missiles, bombers and submarines to deliver the new warheads.

New Warheads & the Budget Request
Despite what the weaponeers want us to believe, the escalating cost of maintaining US nuclear weapons is not due to the difficulty of the task or to excessive "aging" of the stockpile.

Rather, it is caused by increasingly exotic elective changes that the NNSA is introducing into the nuclear arsenal through its Life Extension Programs (LEPs). LEP is the soothing name given to a program to create new ways to initiate a nuclear war, whether it ultimately occurs by accident, miscalculation or deliberate madness. Three LEPs, in particular, need scrutiny and congressional leadership to constrain their costs and roll back unnecessary design changes.

1. New Long-Range Stand Off Warhead: The Air Force has requested around $1.8 billion over the next 5 years to develop a new Long-Range Stand Off (LRSO) weapon to replace the air-launched cruise missile.

The new LRSO missile will be capable of carrying conventional and thermonuclear warheads. According to reports, the nuclear-tipped version will be indistinguishable from the conventional one, a potentially destabilizing situation.

The new, radar-evading LRSO weapon will be able to launch a sneak nuclear attack from 3,000 or more miles from its unsuspecting target. This will be a potential first-strike weapon.

The NNSA is in charge of developing a new warhead for the LRSO, and Livermore Lab has been designated as the "lead lab" to design it. The warhead type has already been chosen. Dubbed the W80-4, the new weapon will be a variant of the W80 that sits atop current cruise missiles.

The FY 2016 budget request asks for $195 million, up from $9 million in FY 2015. LRSO W80-4 warhead funding is slated to increase to $312 million in FY 2017, $407 million in FY 2018, and to continue on an upward trajectory.

Independent estimates of LRSO missile and warhead costs come in at about $20 billion. The FY 2016 budget request imprudently seeks to accelerate the development of the missile and warhead by around two years (after delaying it for three years in the prior budget).

2. New B61-12: This new bomb will combine three tactical or "battlefield" versions of the B61 with a strategic version, the B61-7, to create an "all-purpose" nuclear gravity bomb that will erase the distinction between tactical and strategic weapons. Los Alamos and Sandia are the "lead labs" in this effort.

Of the approximately 480 B61s slated to become B61-12s, about 180 will be forward deployed at six bases in five NATO countries in Europe, with the remainder housed at four bases in the US Currently, US taxpayers alone are footing the bill.

The B61-12 LEP comes with a price tag upwards of $10 billion, which will make each bomb worth about twice its weight in solid gold. The NNSA FY 2016 budget request for the B61-12 is for more than $643 million. The LEP will top the $700 million annual mark by 2018, rising to more than $760 million in 2020.

A guided tail-fin kit, being designed separately by the Defense Dept. will add another $1.8 billion overall, while creating a devastating nuclear smart bomb. Its continued forward deployment in NATO countries is also provocative.

3. Wholly New "Interoperable" Warheads: The NNSA's overly ambitious and wrong-headed proposal is to redesign the entire US nuclear weapons stockpile by creating three warhead types that could be launched from both land- and sea-based platforms (i.e., be "interoperable") and the two new air-launched weapons, noted above.

NNSA has dubbed this the 3+2 strategy. The first of these three "interoperable" warheads, the W78/88-1, is to be designed principally at Livermore Lab. Its estimated cost is $12 billion, although technical uncertainty and changes in the nuclear weapons complex needed to implement the program will add tens of billions more.

The FY 2015 budget request and congressional action deferred any funding for the W78/88-1 for at least five years, and the FY 2016 budget request follows suit. Still, the NNSA insists the "interoperable" concept is on track, and the agency's FY 2016 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan shows development of the W78/88-1 in FY 2020.

An Important Role for the Public
The President's budget request is just that . . . a request. The Constitution gives Congress the power of the pocketbook. Each year, the budget request goes through both an authorization and the all-important appropriations process. If money is not appropriated, it cannot be spent.

Every Senator and Representative has a vote. Certain Members also sit on key committees. For example, Senator Dianne Feinstein is the Ranking Member on the Energy & Water Appropriations subcommittee through which the NNSA budget must pass. She has publicly questioned the rationale for developing a new LRSO.

One effective action is to reach out by phone, email or letter to your elected officials, including Senator Feinstein. The Capitol Switchboard number is (202) 224-3121. Another useful action is to write a letter to the editor of your favorite paper. Or, call the Tri-Valley CAREs office and arrange for a speaker at your next house party. Whatever creative action appeals to you, here are five talking points to help you tell Congress and the President to move the money from nuclear weapons and put it into programs of social benefit.

* Congress and the Obama Administration should limit all LEPs to refurbishment of components necessary to maintain existing safety and reliability until such time as the weapons are dismantled pursuant to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its disarmament obligation under Article VI.

* Congress and the Obama Administration should cancel the plan to design three new "interoperable" warheads and constrain the costly 3+2 strategy. In the interim, Congress should continue to refuse funding to develop the first "interoperable" warhead and maintain the 5-year delay imposed last year.

* Congress should cancel the new LRSO warhead and missile. At a minimum, Congress should delay its development for at least 3 years rather than speed it up (as the FY 2016 budget request does).

* Congress should curb development of the B61-12. At a minimum, Congress should ensure that any FY 2016 funding for the B61-12 LEP includes a NATO cost sharing agreement before funds are released.

* Senator Ed Markey has introduced the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act in the Senate. Representative Blumenauer has introduced the SANE Act in the House. The SANE Act would save $100 billion over ten years by cutting harmful, unnecessary bomb plants, LEPs and warhead delivery vehicles. More co-sponsors are needed. (Details at http://trivalleycares.org/new/2015SANE_ACT.html)

* An expanded version of this article will be published in a new report, The Growing US Nuclear Threat, by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and its member groups. The report will be distributed to diplomats at the NPT Review Conference and to Congress during our spring "DC Days."

NIF, Plutonium and Proliferation
Marylia Kelley from Tri-Valley CAREs' Spring 2015 newsletter, Citizen's Watch

Nearly 20 years and at least $8.5 billion have been expended building and operating the National Ignition Facility (NIF) laser at Livermore Lab. The Fiscal Year 2016 budget request exceeds half a billion dollars for inertial confinement fusion. Of that, at least $322.5 million will be spent on NIF.

Attempts to achieve nuclear fusion ignition at NIF have failed. A pivot this year to zapping plutonium in NIF poses unacceptable new risks of local contamination and global nuclear proliferation.

For starters, Livermore Lab is beginning plutonium operations at NIF without fully analyzing potential health and environmental threats.

According to documents we obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, plutonium-242 shots will be conducted without a working inner containment vessel to capture debris, and may "generate airborne contamination that exceeds the derived air concentration," i.e., the legal limit. (For more on health and environmental impacts, see http://trivalleycares.org/new/PUNIF_PR.html and the blogs above it.)

The international proliferation risks may be more subtle than airborne plutonium particles wafting around, but they are nonetheless dangerous. Plutonium use invalidates the 1995 nonproliferation study that was a key component of the original "go-ahead" for NIF. That assessment linked use of plutonium with vertical proliferation; a situation it concluded could be avoided to make NIF's proliferation risks "manageable."

Using that same definition, the 2015 decision to use plutonium makes NIF's proliferation risks "unmanageable." Plutonium shots at NIF are specifically intended to yield information that is useful for US nuclear weapons development.

The purpose of the experiments is to study the behavior of plutonium under high pressures and strain rates, such as in a nuclear bomb. Any US weapons design "improvements" based on NIF plutonium shots would be evidence of vertical proliferation.

Horizontal proliferation is, essentially, when additional countries acquire a nuclear weapon, or acquire detailed design information or materials needed to produce a nuclear weapon. Plutonium shots in NIF may cause, or contribute to, this proliferation.

Plutonium experiments will be classified, however the data can be stolen, leak out abruptly or seep out gradually in scientific papers, conference proceedings and unguarded conversations.

Moreover, other industrialized countries have high-powered laser facilities (e.g., France, Russia) or may build them in the future. Will it be OK with the US if other nations use giant lasers to conduct plutonium experiments, since we know the data will be useful in obtaining a nuclear weapon or improving one's stockpile?

Livermore Lab documents we received under the Freedom of Information Act state that Lab management alone will decide whether to start plutonium experiments (and they made the decision in the affirmative in January 2015). Yet the Lab is thrusting the entire nation into a geopolitical quagmire from which it cannot withdraw.

The US cannot "undo" plutonium experiments at NIF at some future date to complain about another country's similar action.

And, what about the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), already reeling under a double-standard because the nuclear-armed states have done little to comply. Conducting plutonium shots in NIF will certainly worsen underlying tensions in the non-proliferation regime and may do permanent damage. Indeed, this may be NIF's most harmful and enduring legacy.

There are immediate, positive actions that can be taken internationally and here at home.

Other countries' diplomats can question the US delegation and raise objections at the NPT Review Conference, and beyond. The US Congress can prohibit plutonium experiments at NIF. The laser can be taken away from the National Nuclear Security Administration and placed in the DOE Office of Science to be used solely for unclassified experiments.

Indeed, housing NIF there could preclude the use of plutonium and avoid all negative environmental, health and proliferation outcomes.

Tri-Valley CAREs will diligently monitor NIF and act to terminate its use of plutonium. Join us! Come to our monthly meetings, sign up on our email alert list or check our website for regular updates.

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