Senior Obama administration officials are insisting the government is not retreating from its focus on nuclear security despite proposed funding cuts.
The administration's fiscal 2015 budget proposal, announced last week, would eliminate in excess of $220 million in funding for nuclear security and nonproliferation efforts, USA Today reported on Saturday.
One of the largest requested cuts in nuclear nonproliferation spending would come from the International Material Protection and Cooperation initiative. The administration is seeking just $305.5 million for the program, compared to the $419.5 million appropriated for the current fiscal cycle. The administration is also requesting $108 million less than current appropriated levels for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the decline in requested nonproliferation funding is due to an administration determination to mothball a controversial effort to construct a mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility that would convert excess plutonium into nuclear-reactor fuel.
The decision to shelve the MOX facility in South Carolina explains 54 percent of the reduction in sought-after nonproliferation funds.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the White House's point person on weapons of mass destruction, in a recent talk at Harvard University's Belfer Center, rejected any suggestion that the administration is less focused on global nuclear security.
"I don't think there is a problem with complacency," she said. "We are seized with this challenge -- with preventing sensitive materials from falling into the hands of terrorists or others who could use it to do us harm."
Still, some arms control advocates question the Obama administration's commitment to nuclear security.
"What I take away from this budget is that there was a lack of leadership in trying to maintain the prioritization of the funding of this issue," said Partnership for Global Security President Kenneth Luongo. "The signal is we are in retreat on this issue, and I think that is a huge mistake."