Last week, President Barack Obama claimed to be less worried about security threats from Russia than "the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan." If that's the case, however, it isn't reflected in his latest military budget, which would boost funding for maintaining and developing atomic weapons while cutting back programs that help keep bomb-making materials out of the hands of terrorists.
"It's troubling that for the third year in a row, the President's budget proposal funds nuclear weapons programs at the expense of virtually every nonproliferation effort," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement provided by his aides. "Maintaining our existing nuclear weapons stockpile is already unsustainable, and it makes little sense to increase investments in weapons that matter less and less for our national security."
The administration's proposed 2015 budget reduces the National Nuclear Security Administration's $790 million in spending on nuclear nonproliferation programs by 20 percent, or $152 million. The cuts apply to NNSA programs that secure buildings containing fissile material, prevent the smuggling of radioactive material across borders, and convert nuclear reactors to use low-enriched uranium, which, unlike highly enriched uranium, cannot be used in nuclear warheads.
At the same time, the Obama budget increases the NNSA's spending on nuclear weapons systems by nearly 6 percent, or $445 million. This includes a $100 million increase for the "life extension" of the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, a Cold War-era weapon stationed mostly around Europe that many arms experts call outdated and unnecessary.
"It's misplaced priorities across the board," says James Lewis, communications director for the Center For Arms Control And Non-Proliferation. The nation's nuclear weapons complex "is just such a massive behemoth that there really isn't money for anything else."
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has defended the cuts, albeit without much enthusiasm. "Nuclear nonproliferation programs, I'm afraid, is not such a great story," he told the Albuquerque Journal News last month. "It's frankly disappointing that we have such a substantial reduction this year. However, I do want to emphasize that this will continue to be a very robust program."