The United States Department of Energy – America’s Nuclear Babysitters

This article was last updated on May 19, 2022

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Now that the world is facing oil that seems to be entrenched at a price well in excess of $100 per barrel, it would be nice to think that the United States Federal Government would use its Department of Energy to assist Americans with both conservation and explore alternatives to our addiction to oil.  As the world’s largest per capita oil and overall energy user, one would think that this would be a very wise place to spend our hard-earned tax dollars.  As a side benefit, one would think that a bit of research into the impact of energy usage on the world’s climate might be a wise investment.
As background information, while there were several precursors, the Department of Energy (DOE) was formally created on August 4th, 1977, by then President Jimmy Carter, who signed the Department of Energy Organization Act with James R. Schlesinger as the first Secretary of Energy.  The DOE replaced the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Federal Energy Administration and organizational entities from other departments and agencies and, when activated on October 1, 1977, was given the responsibility for America’s nuclear weapons program.  The DOE was organized as part of President Carter’s National Energy Plan, a response to the energy shortages that had faced the United States as a result of the oil embargo of the earlier 1970s.
Here is a screen capture from the DOE website showing their mission:
Under the Department of Energy, we find the National Nuclear Security Administration or NNSA.  The NNSA was established in the year 2000 by Congress as a separate agency responsible for the management and security of the nation’s nuclear weapons; the support that they offer includes defense, nuclear nonproliferation, naval reactors, emergency operations, infrastructure and environment and nuclear security.  They play a "critical role in ensuring the security of our Nation by maintaining the safety, security and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing".  My initial impression was that the NNSA would form a less than significant part of the DOE but apparently I was wrong as I will explore in this posting.
Let’s take a look at how much the DOE is costing American taxpayers.  Here is the link to the Department of Energy Fiscal Year 2012 Congressional Budget Request with the budget request for the NNSA included.  For 2012, the DOE is requesting $29.547 billion, up $$3.121 billion or 11.8 percent from fiscal 2010.  Of that amount, the DOE expects to spend $3.2 billion on "energy efficiency and renewable energy", up $983.7 million or 44.4 percent from 2010.  That’s about 10.8 percent of the entire fiscal 2012 DOE budget.  Admirable in this time of high oil prices, don’t you think?  Overall on Fossil Energy Programs, the DOE is requesting only $520.7 million, down $417.8 million or 44.5 percent from 2010; this is about 1.8 percent of its 2012 budget   This budget item includes fossil energy research and development, the naval petroleum reserve, the strategic petroleum reserve and the Northeast home heating oil reserve.  Here is a look at the overall Budget Request for the DOE:

Now, let’s go back to the NNSA, the kind folks who look after America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons among other things.  The NNSA is requesting $11.783 billion, up $568.2 million or 5.1 percent from fiscal 2010.  That works out to 39.9 percent of the total DOE 2012 fiscal budget request and nearly four times what is being spent on "energy efficiency and renewable energy".  Of that amount, $7.629 billion is being spent to babysit the nations stockpile of nuclear weapons, 25.8 percent of the total DOE budget for fiscal 2012 and an increase of 8.9 percent from fiscal 2010.  It is costing American taxpayers nearly two and a half times as much for NNSA "Weapons activities" as what the DOE is spending on "energy Efficiency and renewable energy".  As well, the DOE plans to spend $5.407 billion on defense environmental cleanup, just over 18 percent of their entire budget request.
Here’s what the NNSA plans to spend through fiscal 2016, noting in particular the 16.7 percent increase in expenditures on "weapons activities":
Now let’s look at a report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) that analyzed the Department of Energy’s Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request.  The IPS states that the DOE will spend, in total, 10 times more on military nuclear activities including the NNSA’s nuclear weapons, non-proliferation activities, naval reactors (think submarines) and nuclear site cleanup than it does on energy conservation.  Here’s the summary page from their report:

IPS states that a total of 46 percent of DOE’s total budget is spent on military nuclear activities even though the DOE has not made a new nuclear weapon in the past 20 years.  Even though the American nuclear arsenal is half the size that it was during the height of the cold war, the spending on nuclear weapons has increased by more than 30 percent over the past 20 years, excluding the $100 billion that the Department of Defense plans to spend for bombers, submarines and missiles that will deploy nuclear weapons.  In 2010, America’s nuclear arsenal consisted of 2500 tactical and strategic warheads, 2500 non-deployed warheads and 3500 retired warheads.  Between fiscal 2003 and 2016, nearly $15 billion will be spent to extend the life of existing warheads at a cost of between $11 and $12 million each.
While everyday Americans are increasingly struggling with their ability to pay mounting costs for energy, it’s most interesting to see that the Department of Energy, whose mission is to "…ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions" is, in fact, spending nearly half of its budget on military nuclear activities and 10 times as much on all nuclear activities than it does on energy conservation.  Perhaps a rethink of the Department of Energy is in order.

Click HERE to read more of Glen Asher’s columns.

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