Funding for New Nuclear Weapons Programs Eliminated

Tasneem Jamal

Sarah Estabrooks

The Ploughshares Monitor Winter 2004 Volume 25 Issue 4

In a major victory for disarmament efforts the US Congress has cut all FY 2005 funding for two controversial nuclear weapons development programs – the earth-penetrating nuclear weapon commonly referred to as a “bunker buster,” and a new generation of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons. In a further blow to the Bush Administration’s nuclear ambitions, Congress also imposed a 75 per cent cut to its program to resume production of Plutonium pits, the fissile cores for nuclear warheads, with a more modest cut to the nuclear “test readiness” program.

A majority of 344-51 in the House and 65-30 in the Senate approved the funding cuts in an omnibus funding bill vote that took place on November 20, only two weeks after the election.  The omnibus bill, which approved $388.4-billion in discretionary funding, merged nine appropriations bills on agriculture; commerce, justice and state; energy and water development; foreign operations; legislative branch spending; education, health and human services, and labour; transportation and treasury; and finally, veterans affairs and housing and urban development. Negotiations for these measures, each a difficult process in itself, were postponed beyond the October 1 commencement of the 2005 fiscal year because of the election campaign. Through the omnibus bill, appropriations for all program areas were rushed through.

Nuclear weapons programs fall under the Energy Department, and were thus included in the omnibus bill rather than the Defense Appropriations Bill, which was approved earlier in the year. The Conference Report of the Appropriations Bill lists a total of $6.642-billion in funding for nuclear weapons-related work ( Alliance for Nuclear Accountability 2004). The funding targeted stockpile management; construction projects; nuclear safeguards; and a series of specific campaigns for research, engineering, Plutonium pit production, and stockpile readiness.

The 2004 Energy budget request included two high-profile projects that were interpreted as demonstrating interest in developing new nuclear technologies and enhancing available capacity. The Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator program sought to develop high-yield earth-penetrating nuclear weapons commonly referred to as bunker busters, modifying available penetrating technologies. A parallel initiative, the Advanced Concepts Initiator, called for research into new low-yield, or tactical, nuclear weapons. Funding for these ‘bunker busters’ and ‘mini-nukes’ programs was heavily criticized as running counter to multilateral nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts and agreed commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In the 2005 budget appropriation, both of these projects were zeroed out completely. A significant turnaround, this cut had bi-partisan support. In House committee negotiations, Republican Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. David Hobson, led the move to eliminate funding for the programs. Despite Senate approval of the funding, the House version of the bill garnered support from Democrat Senators and the cut was included in the final spending bill. Democrat Representative Edward Markey, a critic of the programs and supporter of the House cut, has gone so far as to call this move “the biggest victory that arms control advocates in Congress have had since 1992, when we were able to place limits on nuclear testing. If we are to convince other countries to forego nuclear weapons, we cannot be preparing to build an entire new generation of nuclear weapons here in the U.S. ” (Ruppe 2004).

Another project indicative of the Bush Administration’s intent to rejuvenate the nuclear weapons program, the Modern pit facility, was also significantly cut. Since 1989 the US has not actively produced Plutonium pits, the fissile cores for nuclear warheads. Plans to build a new facility for pit production were introduced in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review, with a view to ensuring the capacity to replace decaying pits in the existing stockpile – under the guise of ‘stockpile management’. In the 2004 budget $10.8-million was allocated for the environmental assessment and ongoing project development of the Modern pit facility (Medalia 2004). The budget request of $29.8-million for 2005 was cut to $7-million, with a clause stating that the funding “cannot be used to select a construction site in fiscal year 2005.”

The Congress also cut the Bush Administration’s budget request, from $30-million to $22.5-million, for preparing the Nevada nuclear testing site for a resumption of nuclear testing. While the Administration denies it intends to resume testing, it requested funding to shorten the test-preparation period from 36 months to 18. Analysts say that the level of funding that was approved will bring the preparation period to 24 months (FCNL 2004).

In other areas of the legislation, non-proliferation programs were funded at a level consistent with 2004 allocations. A total of $1.42-billion was confirmed for non-proliferation programs within the basket of Energy department programs, an increase from the $1.35-billion requested. This funding is destined primarily for technical projects addressing surplus fuel disposition, mixed oxide fuel fabrication, and nuclear facilities security. In this line item, $20,000,000 was approved for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative to secure and dismantle Russian nuclear facilities, materials, and equipment. Non-proliferation programs are also funded under the Foreign Relations package of items within the omnibus bill, including contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Preparatory Commission.

Coming so soon after the Bush election victory, the vote on the omnibus appropriations bill sets the tone for future nuclear weapons funding requests. Clearly both sides of the aisle have reservations about embarking on a new program of nuclear weapons development, while non-proliferation programs have gained increasing support. The limits put on nuclear spending in the 2005 Appropriations Bill, particularly the elimination of funding for two programs that signaled a revitalization of nuclear weapons development, set a precedent for the next four years.

The Washington-based Arms Control Association (2004) described the cuts as “an important rejection of the administration’s costly and counterproductive drive to invent new nuclear arms for new missions.” The association’s executive director, Daryl G. Kimball, said that “the congressional budget cuts send a strong signal to the White House that Republicans and Democrats will resist efforts to create new and ‘more usable’ nuclear weapons or resume nuclear testing.” He added, “It is clear many believe such efforts make it harder to convince other states to exercise nuclear restraint.”

The Friends Committee on National Legislation (2004), the influential Washington office of the US Quakers, called the budget cuts “a remarkable victory” for all those who “helped build the movement to stop the Bush administration’s drive to develop new nuclear weapons.” Disarmament advocates noted that the challenge now is to ensure that these cut or reduced programs are not funded again in 2006.



Alliance for Nuclear Accountability 2004.

Arms Control Association 2004, “Arms Control Association Applauds Lawmakers’ Move to Cut Funding for Costly and Counterproductive Nuclear Weapons Projects,” November 22.

Friends Committee on National Legislation 2004, listserve, November 22.

Medalia, J. 2004, “Nuclear Warhead ‘Pit’ Production: Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service Report, updated March 29.

Ruppe, D. 2004, “Markey hails defeat of nuclear bunker buster, mini-nukes,” Global Security Newswire, 21 November.


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