Mr. FLEMING. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of the amendment being offered by the gentleman from Ohio, which would restore a modest 20 percent of over $1.1 billion in funding this bill cuts from the defense activities of the Department of Energy, which ensures the safety, security and reliability of our Nation's nuclear weapons.
The FY12 Energy and Water appropriations bill sharply reduces overall funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration from the President's budget request by more than 10 percent, or $1.1 billion, while increasing funding for Army Corps of Engineers water projects by 4 percent above the budget request. This is in addition to the $1 billion plus-up in emergency supplemental disaster relief added to the bill for the Mississippi River flooding.
As a Member who represents Louisiana, I can appreciate how critical funding for the Army Corps of Engineers is, but we have to consider those [Page: H4802]
priorities in light of the vital need to maintain our national security which since the end of World War II has rested on the strength of our strategic nuclear deterrent.
The reductions set forth in this measure would significantly impact NNSA's ability to implement the goals and policies established in the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and our Nation's nuclear modernization plans. Most concerning is a $498 million cut that this bill makes to the Weapons Activity account which provides the necessary technical support to ensure safety, security and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
This bill also places at risk the timely replacement of Cold War-era nuclear infrastructure, specifically the construction of the Nation's plutonium capability at Los Alamos--the Chemistry and Metallurgy Replacement Facility, which is cut by $100 million out of the $300 million necessary for the FY12 activities.
Mr. Chairman, at a time when major defense spending cuts are on the horizon, we can ill afford to undercut our Nation's last line of defense, which has always been our nuclear deterrent.
I strongly urge support of this amendment.
Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Chairman, my amendment is very simple. Of the $733 million appropriated in this bill for nuclear energy research at the Department of Energy, it separates out $10 million to spend on a cooperative effort with NASA to restart the production of plutonium-238.
Advancing the state of nuclear energy technology was the initial mission of the DOE, and it was hugely successful, developing technologies now used in power plants, submarines and deep space missions. This last focus is now one of the smallest: DOE spends about $40 million a year building plutonium-238 radioisotope thermal generators, RTGs, for NASA and for national security purposes. This program began in the fifties. RTGs flew on all of the Apollo missions and many times since. In deep space,
RTGs are often the only possible source of power.
Unfortunately, in the early nineties, the U.S. shut down plutonium-238 production, and since then, the Department of Energy has been using stockpiled material and material purchased from Russia to build these devices. Recently, though, Russia refused to continue that relationship, and our supply of plutonium-238 is almost exhausted. There are no other viable ways to provide this power, so the U.S. must restart production to allow any deep space or national security uses to continue.
This project has been requested in the last three budget requests, under the Bush and Obama administrations. Over the course of 5 years, the total cost of the project is estimated at $75-$90 million. By agreement between the agencies, the project would be equally funded by NASA and the DOE as NASA has the largest need for the power and the DOE has the expertise and would build and maintain the facility. The $10 million requested this year in the NASA budget was included in the CJS billing making
its way through the Appropriations Committee. This 50/50 cost share is consistent with the decades-long history of the RTG program in which NASA has paid for each RTG produced for its purposes and the DOE has paid for the infrastructure required.
In the context of the nuclear energy research budget, which, in fact, receives a modest increase in this bill, this is a very small project, but it would have an outsized influence on our ability to do the kind of space exploration that no one else in the world can. It may also provide an opportunity for national security agencies to pursue important projects that would otherwise not be available.
I hope that every Member can support this amendment so that we can continue the long history of space exploration for which this Nation is known around the world.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. FRELINGHUYSEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the gentleman's amendment, but let me thank him for his historical perspective of the department and of its initial responsibility and for his own deep knowledge, which he shared with many of us in the House, of its necessity in terms of space exploration.
The gentleman's amendment increases funding for the plutonium-238 production restart project, as it's called. To do so, funding for other valuable nuclear energy activities would have to be cut, including the advanced reactor concept research, fuel cycle development, and promising avenues like small modular reactors licensing and research.
The administration has proposed this new project for several years in order to increase domestic supplies of plutonium-238. The vast majority of this material, as Mr. Schiff has said, would be used by NASA for in-space power supplies, and only a small fraction would be used by the Department of Energy. Unfortunately, after the committee repeatedly expressed concerns since fiscal year 2010, the administration once again proposed in the 2012 budget request for the Department of Energy
to share a full half of the project's financial cost. The administration has neither altered its stance nor addressed or even acknowledged the committee's concerns about this disproportionate sharing.
The funding plans in the budget request and the amendment simply don't make sense, particularly given the other critical priorities in this bill. As we have expressed for 2 years, the administration must develop a more sensible plan. Therefore, I oppose the amendment, and urge Members to do likewise.
I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. HOLT. I would like to make a brief comment in support of the gentleman's amendment.
As he said and as I would like to reiterate, there is a class of space exploration that cannot be carried out without these RTGs. Our domestic supply is unreliable at best, essentially nonexistent, and it takes a while to regenerate that.
I strongly support the gentleman's move to restart that program so that we could have a reliable domestic program for deep space exploration that cannot be conducted in any way with other energy sources. I think it is a reasonable amendment and is not overstated, and I would urge its adoption.
I yield back the balance of my time.