The House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee on Wednesday sent the first draft of the Department of Energy’s 2020 budget bill to the full Appropriations Committee for consideration some time next week.
The subcommittee will reveal its preferred spending levels for key programs in a detailed bill report to be published Monday, a committee aid said. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chair of the full Appropriations Committee, said the 2020 DoE budget bill could make it to the House floor by June.
The subcommittee bill passed by voice vote. The measure would raise the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons budget by about 4.5% year-over-year to $15.9 billion — a figure some 3.6%, or $600 million, lower that what the White House requested. At the same time, the bill would provide $700 million more than requested for DoE-led cleanup of shuttered nuclear-weapon sites.
After the markup, subcommittee Chair Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) declined to say which proposed NNSA increases she preferred not to fund. In her opening statement, Kaptur gave only a hint, saying that her bill would not fund “costly, poorly defined recommendations from the President’s  Nuclear Posture Review.”
Among other things, the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review called for: a low-yield, submarine-launched, ballistic-missile warhead, studying the viability of a new low-yield, sea-launched cruise missile, and maintaining the previously-to-be-retired, megaton-class B83 nuclear gravity bomb.
Last year, before the GOP lost control of the House, Congress funded the low-yield ballistic missile warhead to the tune of $65 million for 2019. NNSA plans to ship the first of these weapons — a modified version of the existing high-yield W76-1 dubbed W76-2 — to the Navy by Sept. 30.
However, Congress has yet to fund the sea-launched cruise missile study or B83 sustainment. NNSA sought funding for both efforts for the 2020 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
None of those programs come close to the biggest increase NNSA seeks for 2020. That distinction goes to the W80-4 air-launched cruise-missile warhead refurbishment. NNSA wants about $900 million for that program in 2020, which is slated to churn out its first refurbished warhead in 2025. That is 35% more than the 2019 enacted level and 25% more than NNSA once thought W80-4 would require this year.
Another big ticket item for 2020 is the $410 million NNSA requested to begin development of a plutonium pit-production plant at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. A committee aide said that was “a huge number. Doesn’t mean it’s not needed, but there’s only so much money to go around.”
The pit plant, to be built on the remains of the canceled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, would produce 50 nuclear weapon cores a year by 2030. Los Alamos National Laboratory would produce 30 cores a year by 2026, with production beginning at 10 a year in 2024, according to NNSA’s current plans. The cores could be used in future silo-launched, intercontinental ballistic-missile warheads.
Lawmakers in both chambers and both sides of the aisle have blanched at an NNSA-chartered estimate from 2018 that said it will cost about $15 billion over several decades to make pits this way.