A compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, released Tuesday and awaiting votes in both chambers of Congress, would authorize funding for Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs at or above the requested level for fiscal year 2022.
In the bill, DoE’s semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) would get $20.3 billion: half a billion dollars more than the roughly $19.7 billion requested, nearly all of which is for the Weapons Activities portfolio.
The biggest winners at NNSA would be the agency’s infrastructure and operations account, which funds upkeep of existing nuclear-weapons production infrastructure, and the the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., which netted an authorization of $600 million, or $76 million above the request. The facility will support manufacture of nuclear-weapon secondary stages throughout the rest of this century.
Authorization bills set policy and spending limits for separate appropriations bills. As of Tuesday, the government was running on a continuing resolution that holds budgets at 2021 levels through Feb. 18. Neither of the 2022 draft appropriations bills produced this summer by the full House or the Senate Appropriations Committee would give the NNSA all the funding it would be authorized to spend if the latest NDAA becomes law.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees did not differ greatly about their preferences for the NNSA in separate NDAA drafts approved this summer — every major weapons life extension program and infrastructure upgrade was funded in both chambers’ early proposals — but the compromise bill generally gives the House its way, whenever there was a conflict about NNSA spending or policy directives.
For example, the final bill includes no funding to extend the life of the B83 megaton-capable gravity bomb, according to a joint explanatory statement. The Senate was for funding the program, but the House was against it. The compromise NDAA also includes extra funding the House Armed Services Committee parceled in to accelerate studies about how plutonium pits — fissile warhead cores — age. Some House lawmakers are still open to the idea of slowing construction of pit factories planned for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Some of these people argue that if pits have a sufficiently long lifespan it might not be necessary to make at least 80 new pits annually in the 2030s: the current military requirement driving the NNSA to spin up new pit production in New Mexico this decade.
The NDAA also has $51 million more than requested, $580 million altogether, for the internal confinement fusion program, which includes National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The laser-powered, nuclear-fusion experimental facility, routinely used for nuclear-weapon experiments, achieved a record energy output over the summer.
NNSA’s defense nonproliferation programs also get a $23 billion boost above the request, under the compromise. Most of the increase is for international programs.