30 percent Increase in DOE’s Non-proliferation Spending Requested

Publish date: January 31, 2003

Written by: Charles Digges

In the largest single-year request for non-proliferation funding in US history, President George Bush will next week ask for a 30 percent increase in funding for Department of Energy's nuclear security and non-proliferation programmes, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said on Wednesday.

But the proposed budget would also freeze or cut several key programs aimed at halting leaks of nuclear material and know-how from former Soviet republics, administration documents show.

The Bush administration’s submission for the 2004 fiscal year budget will be delivered to congress on Monday and will ask for $1.3bn for the DOE’s nuclear non-proliferation programmes — a $312m increase over last year’s allocation — Abraham said at gathering at the Washington-based Centre for International and Strategic Studies, or CSIS.

Its also marks the second year in a row that Washington has sought to boost over-all spending to secure and destroy nuclear materials and other weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union, even though Bush himself — prior to September 11th 2001 — tried to scale back threat reduction expenditures.

The “unprecedented” increase in the non-proliferation funding request comes eight months after the Group of Eight industrialized nations, or G-8, pledged to provide $20bn in funding over the next 10 years to combat proliferation risks in Russia and the formerly Soviet states under the “Global Partnership’ plan. The United States, for its part, will shoulder $10bn of that pledge.

The funding increase also follows, by a matter of days, the release of a report written by 15 international think tanks sponsored by the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative, which called for redoubled worldwide cooperation to fulfil funding goals outlined in the Global Partnership.

Abraham said Wednesday that the DOE budget request, combined with the Global Partnership pledges, shows “how far this nation is prepared to go individually and collectively to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and materials.”

The budget proposal, however, drew mixed reactions from non-proliferation groups and weapons experts, some of who criticized Abraham’s description of the spending package as misleading.

Budget documents obtained by the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, or RANSAC — which has offices in Washington and Moscow — showed that 84 percent of the $312m increase is earmarked for the controversial domestic programme that would convert some 34 tonnes of surplus plutonium from US nuclear weapons into mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel for burning in commercial reactors. Russia has also pledged to destroy 34 tonnes of its surplus weapons-grade plutonium in the same manner, but the Russian component of the disposition program is designated to receive smaller increases.

All told, the budget proposal would allocate $609m for fissile materials disposition in the United States and $47.1m for Russia.

Meanwhile, spending on several long-standing programs that improve security at former Soviet nuclear facilities would remain flat or would drop slightly, a RANSAC report on the DOE budget said.

“The major increase is to be spent in the United States, while key programs focused on Russian nuclear security have been cut below [fiscal year 2003] levels or held to minimum growth,” said RANSAC Director Kenneth Luongo, formerly the DOE’s top non-proliferation official in the Clinton administration.

“This is a short-sighted mistake,” Luongo said.

DOE officials declined to comment on RANSAC’s analysis and said the formal budget will be released on Monday.

The MPC&A budget
Among the programs scheduled for funding cuts or freezes is the department’s International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (MPC&A) programme, the primary initiative responsible for security upgrades for stockpiles of nuclear material in Russia and other former Soviet states, RANSAC said. A bipartisan congressional panel two years ago ranked the safeguarding of Soviet-era nuclear weapons and fissile material as Russia’s top security priority.

Under the proposed budget, total spending on the MPC&A program would decline slightly in 2004, from approximately $227m to $226m, the RANSAC analysis said.

Within the reduced 2004 MPC&A budget, however, more funding will be distributed to some programmes to offset reductions.

A reduction from $55.8m to $38m is expected in the MPC&A’s cooperative programmes with the Navy. Spending on MPC&A work in the weapons complex of the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry, or Minatom, will be reduced from $48m to $34m. Additionally, the proposed budget for MPC&A work with Russian civilian nuclear sites is $11m — approximately $10.7m less than 2003 levels, the RANSAC analysis indicated.

Significant new levels of funding, however, will be distributed to MPC&A programmes to prevent nuclear smuggling and the harvesting of orphaned radiation sources for use in “dirty bombs” by terrorists. Approximately $19.7m — representing a 121 percent increase on 2003 levels — will be spent to secure radioactive batteries and other radiation sources that could be used in radiological dispersion devices. The budget for materials conversion and consolidation efforts will grow from $27m to $31m.

The “Second Line of Defense” programme, which provides nuclear smuggling detection equipment and training to Russian border security and customs forces, would be funded at $24.0m in 2004 under the DOE proposal — the same budget as for 2003.

Funding for the Russian Transition Initiatives program — encompassing the DOE’s two leading efforts to facilitate downsizing of the Russian nuclear weapons and supply alternative employment for Russian weapons scientists — would be maintained at approximately its fiscal year 2003 level. The first of these programmes, Nuclear Cities Initiative, would receive approximately $17m in 2004, while approximately $23m is proposed for the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, the RANSAC analysis said.

New Programmes
The DOE plans to introduce a new $30m programme in 2004 called the “Accelerated Materials Disposition” initiative that will deal with purchasing and securing high-enriched uranium, or HEU. Under this new programme, $26m would be provided for purchasing and stockpiling in the United States additional quantities of Russian HEU that has been down-blended to low enriched uranium, or LEU, for use as nuclear fuel in US commercial reactors.

The new programme would also supply $2m to accelerate the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors, or RERTR, programme, which works to phase out the use of HEU in Russian experimental reactors. This $2m would be added to the core RERTR budget of $5.86m, the RANSAC analysis said.

Another $1m would go for the purchase of Russian HEU for use in US research and test reactors, plus another $1m to accelerate the conversion and consolidation of HEU in Russia.

One other area where the DOE plans to spend more money is in the development of international nuclear safeguards with the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, with a prospective boost of 33 percent to $13.1m for 2004, the RANSAC report indicated. Similarly, funding resources for the development of nuclear safeguards related to North Korea would be increased fourfold.