Follow the Money
Editor’s note: This report focuses on the Air Force’s B-61 gravity bomb, still deployed in five European countries that have “nuclear sharing” agreements with the United States: Holland, Belgium, Germany, Turkey and Italy. About 180 B-61s are still used on F-16s and Tornado jet fighter-bombers in Europe.
The program to replace the B-61s with a new “model 12” — rather than retiring them permanently — has been condemned by US allies in NATO, Congressional budget hawks and the entire arms control community. Even former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright has said the B-61’s military value is “practically nil.”
Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists interviewed Joe Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund March 12. Cirincione said, “This decision represents the triumph of entrenched nuclear interests over good government. The B-61 is no longer relevant for US national security, but continues to rob billions of dollars from programs that would make America safer.”
The B-61’s 300-to-500 kiloton “variable yield” thermo-nuclear device has 24 to 40 times the destructive power of the US bomb that killed 170,000 people at Hiroshima and destroyed everything within seven square miles. Yet its threat of indiscriminate destruction is still called “tactical” by US nuclear war planners.
Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2014
By Marylia Kelley, Citizen’s Watch, Spring 2014
Want to know a nation’s real policies? Skip over the government speeches and carefully groomed headlines. Read its budget. This is where true priorities are revealed. Federal budgets are a country’s policy in action, and, as such, are worthy of attention.
In March, the US Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration sent its Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget request for nuclear weapons and related activities to Congress. The budget request consistently indulges nuclear bomb development over nonproliferation and environmental cleanup.
Especially blessed by the budget request is the Life Extension Program (LEP) to “modernize” the B-61 nuclear bomb by giving it provocative new military capabilities. Plundered in order to pay for the bomb is the program that secures the world’s most vulnerable nuclear materials.
Also caught in the budgeting vise are funds for slowing or preventing toxic and radioactive poisons moving downwind and downstream from contaminated nuclear weapons facilities.
Here are a few of the key numbers. The budget request for the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration is $11.7 billion. Of that, the largest chunk by far, $8.3 billion, is for Nuclear Weapons Activities, an increase of $534 million, or seven percent, above the FY 2014 level, which was already far too high.
Increases for the B-61-12 nuclear bomb
Notably, a major increase is requested for Directed Stockpile Work. The increase is mostly for the LEP to combine four versions of the B-61 into a new B-61-12 bomb, a risky enterprise that is neither desirable nor necessary. Additionally, there is a B-61-12 LEP-related increase proposed in the nuclear weapons Readiness Campaign budget.
The total estimated cost for the B-61-12 has risen from $3.9 billion in 2010 to $10 billion today, not including an additional $1 billion in funding for a new tail kit. At this price each of the new B-61-12 nuclear bombs will cost twice its weight in solid gold, according to the Ploughshares Fund.
Here are the near-term costs. The FY 2015 request for the B-61-12 Life Extension Program stands at $643 million, a 20 percent increase over 2014. Worse, the budget documents state that this bomb’s LEP is slated to remain well above the $600 million mark in 2016 and 2017, and then rise to more than $725 million each year starting in 2018. As the B-61-12 LEP costs keep rising, the time line to actually produce the first new bomb is falling behind. The FY 2015 request extends the date for the first production unit to 2020, due to the complexity of the design changes the contractors want to make.
Moreover, this bomb’s presence in NATO countries contributes to rising tensions in the region and to global instability. A growing number of elected officials in the NATO countries that house the B-61s are objecting to the B-61-12 LEP and also to a future role for nuclear weapons in NATO. A logical step would be for the US to retire the B-61s rather than spend $11 billion “shLEPping” them into a new bomb design.
Nonproliferation funding takes the hit
In contrast to the nuclear weapons activities budget, the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration’s nonproliferation accounts get a big cut in the FY 2015 request. It is fair to say that nonproliferation is being raided to pay for the B-61-12 and other ill-advised bomb programs. Here, too, the government’s priorities are showing.
The budget request for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation is down from about $2 billion in FY 2014 to $1.56 billion in the FY 2015 request. … Funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which helps secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world, is slashed from $442 million to $333 million — a 25 percent reduction. Other nonproliferation projects are also reduced in the FY 2015 request.
Scott Yundt, Tri-Valley CAREs’ Staff Attorney, called the precipitous drop in the nonproliferation budget “a dangerous policy,” adding that, “the DOE likes to talk about reducing nuclear dangers, yet is cutting the very funds it needs to properly accomplish that mission. The US and the world need to better safeguard, package and store nuclear materials, not create new variants of nuclear bombs.”
Reduced cleanup funding
The FY 2015 budget request does not express a commitment to cleanup needed by the people living near nuclear weapons facilities. Sites being cleaned up with DOE Environmental Management funding will see a slight drop in total funding, from $5.83 billion in 2014 to $5.63 billion in the 2015 request.
The funding for Superfund cleanup of leaking toxic and radioactive wastes at Livermore National Lab in California comes mostly from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s cleanup budget and partly from the Environmental Management budget. While Livermore’s Environmental Management funds are down slightly from last year, it appears that the FY 2015 cleanup monies will be sufficient for the Lab to cover its major activities. Still, measures that residents want in order to expedite cleanup would not be funded.
The budget request also contains a wholly new program called the “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative” (OGS), a “wish list” that if funded would … shower even more money disproportionately on nuclear weapons activities. As the budget process unfolds in the coming weeks, Congress should reject the OGS entirely and, instead, move a significant portion of the funds requested for weapons activities into nonproliferation and environmental management.
Some calls you can make
Obama’s FY 2015 budget request has gone to Congress, where the House and Senate will decide how much funding each of these programs will actually receive. We have a window of opportunity now to make sure our voices are heard.
US Representatives and Senators can be reached via the capitol switchboard, (202) 224-3121. Ask to speak to the “defense aide” about the nuclear weapons budget, and ask the aide to keep you informed of the legislator’s position on it. Also ask to be informed of any action the lawmaker takes on a specific program, like the B-61-12 LEP or the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, or DOE’s Environmental Management program.
Here is what Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said about the budget request at a recent committee hearing she chaired: “What I see are additional cuts to well-managed programs that have made this country safer from nuclear terrorism at the expense of increased funding for poorly managed nuclear weapons programs.”