Proposed federal budget boosts nuclear production, ignores social costs
Monday, February 10, 2020
On the manufacturing front, the spreading coronavirus is delaying Chinese import and production cycles and Brexit requires a new EU trade deal, but last month’s U.S. manufacturing improved by 3.1% to record a 50.9% Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) anyway.
The proposed Fiscal Year 2021 nuclear defense budget, unveiled on Feb. 10, includes new weapons manufacturing. This anticipates more growth while plans still ignore total costs, a concern for those immediately impacted in nuclear weapons laboratory towns like Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The Trump administration’s FY2021 National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) budget is $19.8 billion: a 20% increase from last year. But higher numbers should be expected as total operational, capital, and social costs loom outside current projected expenditures.
Concrete plans to design and manufacture low-yield thermonuclear weapons began a couple years ago. In late December 2019, one or two W76-2 nuclear warhead(s) were deployed on the USS Tennessee — a Navy submarine. The idea behind a “low-yield” warhead is that its 6-kiloton explosive capability (compared with 90 or 450) could be used in the course of escalating conflicts instead of for simple deterrence.
Manufacturing a lighter impact warhead joins ongoing higher-yield warhead manufacturing, like the W87-1’s 475 kilotons. The W87-1 is a repurposed W78 warhead that will need new plutonium pits, too.
The FY2021 federal budget request is to fulfill a 2030 goal of 80 plutonium pits per year manufactured at one or both the Savannah River, Georgia, (SRS) and Los Alamos, New Mexico, (LANL) nuclear sites.
Five years ago, this level of plutonium pit production was not predicted. The FY21 budget request is: “...a 63% increase...over the FY17 NNSA appropriation of $12.9 B, the last one crafted in the Obama administration...Within NNSA, the “Plutonium Sustainment” request...is likely to be roughly $1 B for FY21. Last year NNSA projected $977 million (M) for FY21 — five times what was projected in 2016 for FY21 and more than four times average spending in the 2000-2018 period, in constant dollars (historical charts). The FY20 request of $712 M was fully funded (e-p. 14).”
This proposed budget doesn’t even factor in facilities and other pit manufacturing costs. The pit project is a nightmarish reinvention of past plutonium production horror stories, both logistically and fiscally. (For example, plutonium in the soil surrounding Rocky Flats is reported as five times higher.)
Consider Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Los Alamos Study Group says LANL facilities are unequipped and total production preparations remain unfunded. The NNSA’s near $20 billion FY2021 price tag doesn’t include everything: “At least $25 billion (B) in life cycle costs for pit production at LANL have been omitted in official cost comparisons between pit production alternatives…”
New pit production requires new employee infrastructure: fully equipped training, manufacturing, parking facilities and employee meals/shower accommodations are necessities. Los Alamos housing is outdated, lacking affordability options, and will be further strained under pit manufacturing plans. This is why LANL is trying to develop employee housing options in nearby Santa Fe.
Finally, pit production safety and health costs are widely documented. While “at least $25 billion” in costs have been omitted from current estimates, future federal Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) payout numbers, beginning in 2030 when the 80 pits per year goal kicks in, are slated to drop.
Does this mean new LANL workers, who risk higher radioactive exposure levels, won’t be eligible for compensation that already totals $1,024,151,636 in almost two decades? Some survivors of 1,599 dead LANL workers have also been compensated, showing a definite need to include social costs in pit production expense projections. This fading program is needed for decades to come if painful pit production goes forward as planned, despite opposition.
A historically large nuclear budget request carries a mounting true dollar price tag; uncounted operational and capital costs; and future work-related illnesses and deaths will create dire labor and social conditions that upend facilities maxed out by manufacturing demands.
Throwing even more money at pit production won’t solve the fact that nuclear stockpile buildup and subsequent modernization is a failed policy. A bloated NNSA budget hardly reduces wasteful spending — another lofty goal of the Trump administration, which proposes cutting Medicaid and food stamps in FY2021, while nuclear Armageddon is casually planned.
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