House NNSA Budget Would Fund Low-Yield Warhead, But Not Pit Production in S.C.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) would get the $65 million it seeks in fiscal 2019 for a low-yield nuclear warhead, but nothing for a new warhead-core factory in South Carolina, under a budget bill approved Wednesday by the House Appropriations Committee.

Overall, the NNSA would receive more than $15 billion for 2019: 4.5 percent more than in 2018 and 1.5 percent more than the White House sought for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.logo-nnsa-top

The bill passed the committee 29-20 along party lines and was not scheduled for a vote on the House floor at deadline Wednesday.

The bill would provide $65 million for the NNSA to modify some existing W76 submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads beginning in 2019. Rep Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) offered and withdrew an amendment that would have defunded the low-yield warhead and spent the $65 million on NNSA nonproliferation programs in 2019.

The NNSA requested funding for the low-yield warhead last month as part of a series of modifications to the federal budget request it delivered to Capitol Hill in March. As a result, the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, which writes the the agency's budget bill every year, never held a hearing about the weapon.

Meanwhile, the House NNSA budget as written would not fund the two-pronged pit-production strategy the agency announced last week, under which operations would be split between the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The strategy involves converting the unfinished Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at Savannah River into a factory capable of producing 50 of these fissile nuclear-warhead cores a year by 2030. Los Alamos would supply another 30 pits annually.

The NNSA budget approved Wednesday provides no funding for dilute-and-dispose, DOE's proposed replacement to the MFFF for elimination of 34 metric tons of nuclear weapon-usable plutonium, and includes $335 million for continued construction of the plant. Dilute-and-dispose involves chemically weakening the 34 metric tons of plutonium at proposed Savannah River Site facilities, mixing the material with concrete-like grout, then burying the resulting mixture at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M.

The Senate Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee is set to mark up its version of the NNSA's 2019 budget next week.

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