Nuclear security remains bulk of Energy budget

From nuclear weapons to wind turbines, the Energy Department has a singular focus: security. Much of the department's investment centers on the research and development necessary to reduce the nation's dependence on petroleum, which is inherent in improving economic stability. But most of its budget, however, remains firmly committed to securing the nation's nuclear stockpile and vulnerable nuclear material around the world, as well as cleaning up the radioactive waste that is the legacy of Cold War nuclear programs.

Of the Obama administration's $28.4 billion budget request for Energy in 2011, nearly three-quarters is slated for weapons programs, nonproliferation and cleanup activities. The National Nuclear Security Administration, a quasi-independent agency within Energy, would receive $11 billion, a 13 percent increase over 2010 funding. Most of that money would go to programs aimed at efficient management of nuclear weapons.

"The president has an aggressive nuclear security agenda," Donald Cook, deputy administrator for defense programs at NNSA, said in a briefing for reporters this summer. "I'll be paying attention broadly to the kind of scientific challenges, the people and capabilities we need in our facilities to continue to underpin the health of our stockpile as well as fast forward any life-extension programs we might undertake," he said.

In Senate testimony earlier this year, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the department planned to boost funding for weapons activities even more -- by another $5 billion during the next five years. "The president has made clear that, as long as nuclear weapons continue to exist, it is essential that we ensure the safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear stockpile," Chu said. "Even in a time of tough budget decisions, we must make this investment for the sake of our security."

Reflecting another top priority of President Obama's, $2.7 billion of NNSA's budget -- which includes more than $500 million in new funding -- would go toward nuclear nonproliferation activities next year. That 26 percent increase in spending is driven by the administration's goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.

Energy's nuclear cleanup work, which accounts for most of the funds that go to its largest contractors, continues apace at $6 billion annually.

The department also has focused on expanding renewable energy and developing technologies that will improve efficiency, such as modernizing the electricity grid, advancing nuclear power, capturing carbon dioxide emissions from coal and moving the transportation sector toward electric-powered vehicles. In addition to investing several billion dollars in basic research, Energy administers billions in tax credits, loan guarantees and other financial incentives to leverage private funds and further its clean-energy agenda.

The department has relied heavily on the $34.7 billion in funding it received under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for investments in renewable energy and advanced vehicle technologies. "Getting that money out the door quickly, carefully and transparently has been and will continue to be a top priority for me," Chu said.

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