The head of the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) moved to protect weapons life-extension programs and plutonium infrastructure from the budget ax wielded here Tuesday by the House’s top nuclear-security appropriator.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), chair of the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, told NNSA Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty that the agency requested too much money in fiscal 2020 for its nuclear weapons operations. The request came at the expense of nonproliferation programs aimed at preventing the spread of fissile materials other nations or terrorists could use to build nuclear or radiological weapons.

“Sustaining a credible nuclear deterrent is a national priority but it must be done in a balanced, cost-effective manner,” said Kaptur, who then put Gordon-Hagerty on the spot to identify the NNSA’s “essential priorities.”

Gordon-Hagerty said all NNSA programs were “equally important.” However, she called out programs to extend the life of four existing nuclear weapons — and heavily modify another weapon — plus two major construction projects needed to produce more fissile warhead cores called plutonium pits.

Pits remain the top priority, Gordon-Hagerty said. For 2020, the NNSA seeks a combined $600 million or so for upgrades to the Plutonium Facility for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, plus pre-construction study work on converting the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF) at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., into a pit plant.  Together, these upgrades would allow the NNSA to produce 80 pits a year by 2030: 30 at Los Alamos and 50 at Savannah River.

The House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee will make its choices about what to cut in the first draft of the lower chamber’s 2020 energy and water appropriations bill. The public will get its first look at that legislation after an open markup that the subcommittee had not scheduled at deadline Tuesday for Defense Daily.