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Navy to Congress: We can't guarantee a safe nuclear fleet

Jul. 9, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Adms. Jon Greenert, left, and John Richardson are warning Congress that funding cuts have put the Navy in a 'position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet.' Here, they're addressing media in February about a cheating incident at the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Command.
Adms. Jon Greenert, left, and John Richardson are warning Congress that funding cuts have put the Navy in a 'position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet.' Here, they're addressing media in February about a cheating incident at the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Command. (MCC(SW/EXW) Peter D. Lawlor/US Navy)
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Letter to Congress

July 7, 2014

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We write today to express our strong concern over proposed cuts to Naval Reactors ‘ (NR’s) portion of the FY15 National Nuclear Security Administration budget request.

Our Navy and our national security rely on a nuclear Fleet of 10 aircraft carriers and 73 submarines, including our 14 OHIO-Class ballistic missile submarines — over 40 percent of our major combatants. These warships form the backbone of our Navy, enabled by the 93 reactors that power them — reactors provided, operated, and regulated solely by NR. NR has been doing this for our nation for over 60 years, compiling over 166 million miles safely steamed on nuclear power — it is an unmatched record of safety and effectiveness.

The funding level proposed in H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, proposes reducing NR’s funding below the request by $162 million which places operation of that nuclear Fleet including sustained carrier operations and the nation’s security at risk. If enacted, this would be the fifth consecutive year of significant marks to NR’s requests for funding. To date, these reductions below requested levels have totaled over $450 million; this bill would bring that total to well over $600 million. These shortfalls have resulted in delaying the construction of needed facilities, effectively halting research and development, and deferring procurement of equipment needed to address emergent fleet issues. The persistent cuts have put NR in the position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet, design and test the reactor plant for the OHIO Replacement Program, and safely and responsibly manage aging infrastructure and the facilities for processing naval spent nuclear fuel. This approach is no longer sustainable.

Moreover, the bill includes a number of provisions on the use of funds, continuing a trend that reduces NR’s ability to manage the Program consistent with the priorities of safe and reliable operation of the fleet.

As the Committee moves forward with H.R. 4923, we respectfully ask that you consider full funding for NR at the FY15 budget request and removal of restrictive provisions on the expenditure of funds. This is essential for continued operation of the nation’s nuclear-powered fleet now and into the future.

Sincerely,
JOHN M. RICHARDSON JONATHAN W. GREENERT
Admiral, U.S. Navy Admiral, U.S. Navy
Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program Chief of Naval Operations

WASHINGTON — Fighting back at repeated budget cuts to its nuclear power budget requests, two of the Navy’s top leaders warned Congress on Monday that the cuts can’t go on.

“This approach is no longer sustainable,” wrote Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, and Adm. John Richardson, commander of Naval Reactors (NR), the entity responsible for all aspects of the Navy’s nuclear power program. They sent the letter to chairmen and ranking members of multiple House and Senate committees.

“The persistent cuts have put NR in the position of being unable to provide for a safe and reliable nuclear fleet, design and test the reactor plant for the Ohio Replacement Program, and safely and responsibly manage aging infrastructure and the facilities for processing naval spent nuclear fuel,” Greenert and Richardson wrote.

At issue are more proposed cuts to NR’s portion of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) 2015 budget request. NNSA’s budget includes naval reactors, nuclear weapons activities and defense nuclear nonproliferation.

Over the past four years, Greenert and Richardson wrote, Congress has funded the account a total of $450 million below the budget requests. Another cut this year of $162 million would bring the total cuts to more than $600 million.

“These shortfalls have resulted in delaying the construction of needed facilities, effectively halting research and development, and deferring procurement of equipment needed to address emergent fleet issues,” Greenert and Richardson wrote.

As reported out June 20 by the House Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2015 cuts the total NNSA request by $296 million, to $11.4 billion.

NR’s portion is $1.2 billion, $162 million below the budget request.

While not calling out the 2015 budget request, the House Appropriations Committee, in its June report accompanying the bill, said it “remains concerned about the high year-to-year increases that NR is using for its programmatic planning basis in future years. In order to carry out its plans, NR’s out-year budgets would need to grow dramatically, an unlikely scenario considering the current fiscal environment.”

The committee directs NR to conduct a multi-year review of requirements “to better understand how funding levels below its five-year projections might impact its long-term strategies.”

Attempts to reach spokespersons at Naval Reactors were unsuccessful by Wednesday afternoon.

But Greenert’s spokesman, Capt. Danny Hernandez, noted that, “with further cuts we can’t continue to sustain fleet support and new programs at the same time.”

The submarines and aircraft carriers of the nuclear-powered fleet, he said, continue to be safe despite being funded below stated needs.

“Rest assured, today’s nuclear fleet is operating safely and reliably,” he said.

Copies of the letter were sent to the chairman and ranking members of the House Appropriations and Armed Services committees, the House Energy and Water Appropriations and Defense Appropriations subcommittees, and the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees.

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