House Panel’s 2019 NNSA Budget Cans Interoperable Warhead, Jump-Starts LANL Pits

A draft 2019 budget bill up for a vote in the House today would steer the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) away from creating a nuclear warhead that could fly on both Navy and Air Force missiles, and jump-start construction of a new warhead-core factory at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

That is according to a bill report released Tuesday by the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee. The report explains in detail how the NNSA should spend the roughly $15 billion budget the panel recommended for the agency in fiscal 2019 last week.

The House's proposed 2019 NNSA budget is about 4.5 percent more than the 2018 appropriation and about 1.5 percent more than requested for fiscal 2019. The full Appropriations Committee is set to consider the draft budget bill at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

The subcommittee’s bill would deny the NNSA $53 million to start designing an interoperable warhead capable of flying on future Air Force and Navy ballistic missiles. Instead, the legislation directs the agency to spend that sum studying ways to extend the life of existing W78 warheads that tip the Air Force’s current fleet of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The bill provides close to $300 million for upgrades to Los Alamos National Laboratory plutonium pit facilities, including some $60 million to start construction in 2019 on a new facility to produce the fissile warhead cores. Los Alamos is to produce at least 30 cores a year by 2030, under the new pit strategy the NNSA officially unveiled Thursday.

The House committee could debate Wednesday whether to fund that strategy, which includes canceling construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and turning the building into a pit factory capable of churning out 50 warhead cores a year by 2030.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry officially canceled the MOX project the same day the NNSA announced its new pit strategy. That was days after the subcommittee approved its 2019 NNSA budget, so the bill to be debated by the full committee today still contains $335 million to build the MFFF, which was designed to turn 34 metric tons of surplus weapon-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel.

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