April 22 The White House cut 93 percent of a recent request by the
secretary of energy for money to improve the security of nuclear
weapons and waste, according to a letter from the secretary.
The secretary, Spencer Abraham, said in the March 14 letter to
Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the director of the Office of Management
and Budget, that the request, for $379.7 million, was "a critical
down payment to the safety and security of our nation and its
The money, for guarding nuclear weapons, weapons materials and
radioactive waste under the Energy Department's supervision, was
part of a $27.1 billion emergency spending bill before Congress, the
second such measure to be considered since the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Failure to support these urgent security requirements is a risk
that would be unwise," the letter said. The New York Times obtained
a copy from someone who favors more spending on nuclear
But Mr. Daniel passed on to Congress only $26.4 million of the
request. Congress has not acted on it.
To improve the security of weapons and weapon material in
storage, the letter listed areas for which the department wanted
$138.3 million. They included equipment to detect explosives in
packages and vehicles entering Energy Department sites ($12
million); better perimeter barriers and fences ($13 million); and
improvements in Energy Department computers, including "firewalls"
and intrusion detection equipment and increasing the ability to
communicate "critical cyber threat and incident information" ($30
million). The request also asked for $41 million to reduce the
number of places where bomb-grade plutonium and uranium was stored.
All were turned down.
Also turned down was $34.1 million for increasing security at
Energy Department laboratories.
The Energy Department did get $368.7 million in the first
emergency spending measure of $40 billion, which Congress approved
soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. It could get more money for the
items that the White House rejected, because Congress has
historically been willing to spend more than the administration on
"If they say we need money to secure nuclear warheads,
apolitically, you think we'd agree to do that," said a Congressional
aide familiar with the letter.
In his letter, Mr. Abraham noted that the department designed,
manufactured, assembled, stockpiled and refurbished weapons and took
them apart when they were retired. (The Defense Department controls
"We are storing vast amounts of materials that remain highly
volatile and subject to unthinkable consequences if placed in the
wrong hands," he wrote. "These materials permeate the departmental
The first emergency spending bill "helped respond to the most
urgent near-term security needs," Mr. Abraham wrote. But, he added,
"the department now is unable to meet the next round of critical
security mission requirements."
Asked to comment on the letter, Jeanne Lopatto, a department
spokeswoman, said, "We're not going to get into details of
discussions we have with the administration."
She added that "our nuclear weapons complex is among the most
secure facilities in the world, and we are constantly assessing and
evaluating security at the weapons complex."
She said that the department might shift funds from other
programs into security and that the administration could possibly
request more money from Congress.
"Our discussions with the Office of Management and Budget are
ongoing," Ms. Lopatto said.
Critics of the Energy Department have argued that it is not
prepared for attacks by suicidal terrorists, a threat not obvious
before Sept. 11.
For example, the critics say, terrorists might enter areas where
uranium or plutonium from bombs is stored, and rather than try to
flee with material, giving defenders a chance to intercept them,
they could assemble a bomb on the spot and cause a nuclear
explosion. They could also enter with explosives and blow up a tank
of nuclear waste, critics say, releasing vast amounts of radioactive
material to spread with the wind.
David J. Sirota, a spokesman for the Democratic minority on the
House Appropriations Committee, said the $138.3 million requested to
protect storage of nuclear weapons and materials and the $100.8
million for security at nuclear weapon cleanup sites were worth
Mr. Sirota asked: "Should we give Enron executives the $250 million tax break
President Bush proposed, or should we use that money to secure our
country against a nuclear attack using our own nuclear
The committee's ranking Democrat, David R. Obey, of Wisconsin,
sought more money for nuclear weapons security in November but was
voted down on party lines in committee in November, and the House
voted, 216 to 211, not to debate the idea.