DOE budget proposal includes boost for LANL supercomputing

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By Tris DeRoma

The latest White House fiscal year 2019 budget proposal for the Department of Energy includes $636 million of funding for the Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project – with about $24 million marked for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s part in the project.

The DOE’s goal is to build the world’s first exascale supercomputers by 2021, a goal the U.S. is racing China to reach first.

About $473 million will go to the DOE Office of Science and $163 million to the National Nuclear Security Administration for the project. The Exascale budget request is a $376 million increase above last year’s enacted budget.

About $24 million of that $163 million is marked for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Exascale Class Computer Cooling Equipment project.

Calling it an “American Budget,” the White House is requesting altogether $30.6 billion for the Department of Energy in its budget request for fiscal 2019.

Trump is also asking for $15.1 billion for the NNSA to modernize the nuclear enterprise and the nuclear arsenal it supports. That’s $2.2 billion more than the enacted 2017 budget.

LANL critic and Executive Director of the Los Alamos Study Group Greg Mello called the budget proposal “Christmas in February” for the NNSA.

“It’s a cold war budget money was showered on NNSA significantly in excess of need,” Mello said.

The NNSA recently sought comments from the public regarding upgrades to the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s plutonium pit manufacturing facility.

The NNSA is looking to upgrade its Radiological Laboratory/Office Building into a facility capable of handling and testing plutonium slated to be used in and expansion of the lab’s plutonium pit manufacturing facility at Tech Area 55.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) preferred that the budget contained more priorities for families and communities that support the labs, than to have the request go toward more arms building.

“While I’m working on the Appropriations Committee for strong budgets that will enable our labs to continue their important national security and scientific work, I am also fighting just as hard for cleanup, as well as funding to invest in our families, communities and the health of our water and air,” Udall said. “Strong communities support a strong defense. But President Trump’s proposed budget does the opposite – it calls for dramatically beefing up the Department of Defense by making dangerous cuts to domestic programs that will cause New Mexico families, communities and the next generation to suffer.”

Udall also took aim at Trump’s request to decrease the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget by $1.3 billion below the enacted 2017 budget.

“Thankfully, Congress has reached a bipartisan budget agreement that completely rejects the president’s out-of-touch cuts, and also supports the national security mission being carried out at New Mexico’s labs and federal installations,” Udall said.

A statement issued by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich’s (D-NM) office said the Senate Armed Services Committee is set to hold a hearing next week to review the DOE’s atomic defense initiatives.

“Through his role on the Senate Armed Services and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committees, Senator Heinrich will continue to ensure New Mexico’s national labs and WIPP have the funding they need to meet the country’s national security and energy needs,” Heinrich’s press secretary, Vanessa Valdivia said.

Mello also thought this request was a bad idea.

“Why in the world are they trying to turn Los Alamos into a plutonium pit factory?” Mello said. “Their predecessor, Pete Domenici thought it was a bad idea.”

“There’s a staggering amount of money in the out years for pit production. Hard to come to any conclusion that the lab and the senators have dollar signs in their eyes,” Mello said.

“The President’s budget request supports the Department’s efforts to enhance today’s energy security while also making strategic investments for tomorrow,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said. “This proposal will empower DOE to achieve our missions efficiently and effectively while being respectful to the American taxpayer.”

In this budget request, the White House is calling for $11 billion for weapons activities, specifically to continue modernizing the NNSA’s infrastructure and its nuclear weapons program. That’s $1.8 billion above the enacted fiscal year 2017 budget.

“The Budget makes significant investments in design and construction of facilities, with an emphasis on infrastructure related to strategic materials (e.g., uranium, plutonium, tritium, lithium) that are critical to the nuclear weapons stockpile,” Trump’s budget address said. “…NNSA must have a modern, secure, streamlined complex that would meet military requirements, keep the nuclear deterrent safe and effective, and enhance worker and public safety.”

The budget also includes $6.6 billion to continue cleaning up waste left over from the cold war and the Manhattan Project at sites overseen by the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Office, including Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

The DOE’s Environmental Management Office awarded a $1.3 billion contract to N3B Los Alamos in December. N3B Los Alamos is a subsidiary company of Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls, started its 90-day transition period Jan. 24.

Some program funding was cut significantly. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program, faces cuts – with its $305 million budget cut to zero. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy faces a budget cut from around $2 billion to $696 million.

In his budget message, Trump referred to his $4.4 trillion budget proposal as “America’s Budget,” one that is designed to end what he says is wasteful spending and expands economic growth and opportunities at the same time.

“The budget also redefines what is possible, by putting the American economy on a path to sustainable 3 percent long-term economic growth. Over the next decade, a steady rate of 3 percent economic growth will infuse trillions of additional dollars into our economy, fueling the dreams of the American people and sustaining a new era of American Greatness,” Trump said.