A 2020 spending proposal from the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee directs the National Nuclear Security Administration to tap the independent group of JASON scientists for at least one, and perhaps two, new studies.

After the Pentagon ditched the JASON contract in April following more than 50 years of funding it, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) picked up the pact with MITRE Corp. through January: long enough for the group to finish three nuclear security studies for the semi-autonomous Department of Energy branch.

If the subcommittee bill becomes law, NNSA would have to hire JASON’s Defense Advisory Panel to look at the agency’s Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program: a long-running effort to achieve sustainable nuclear fission using high-energy laser facilities at: the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California; the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico; the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico; and the University of Rochester in New York.

NNSA is performing its own study on the benefits of ignition for national defense, but “the Committee believes it is necessary for an independent, comprehensive review to assess the prospects of achieving ignition for stockpile stewardship,” according to a detailed bill report released Monday. “If it is determined that ignition science activities are necessary to maintain the nuclear stockpile, the review shall recommend and prioritize research areas that would improve the ICF program’s pursuit of ignition.”

Fission ignition has so far eluded NNSA scientists, but the agency has always maintained that the ICF program has value without it. High-powered lasers turned can approximate some of the conditions found in a nuclear explosion, giving the agency a way to assess the explosive potential of special nuclear materials such as plutonium without resorting to nuclear explosive testing.

The subcommittee bill recommended some $565 million for ICF in 2020, up about 3.5% from 2019 and nearly 15% more than what the White House sought.

Elsewhere in the bill report is another opportunity for the NNSA-funded JASON, this time within the weapons activities program.

The subcommittee wants either JASON or a federally funded research and development corporation to study the cost of NNSA’s plan to replace the W78 intercontinental ballistic missile warhead with a W87-1 warhead. The current fleet of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles can use both types of warheads, but the Pentagon wants to move to W87-1 for the next-generation of silo-based missiles, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

Whatever group got the W87-1 study would have to provide Congress with an unclassified report on its findings 120 days after the subcommittee’s bill becomes law.

The subcommittee recommended about $53 million for W87-1: less than half the roughly $112 million the NNSA sought for 2020.