Energy budget reduces spending on nuclear arms

April 06, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Pronouncing itself on the cutting edge of changes called for by the White House, the U.S. Department of Energy unveiled a $19.6 billion budget yesterday that would eliminate thousands of nuclear weapons production jobs and shift priorities toward environmental cleanup and the development of more efficient energy sources.

Although Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary said that new programs would provide jobs for many of those idled by the curtailment of weapons production, she acknowledged it "would be unfair to pretend that each job will be replaced slot for slot."

Altogether, some 8,600 of more than 48,000 weapons workers are expected to be idled. And department officials said about $200 million is included in the budget to ease the effect on the department's 140,000 contract employees.

The money will be spent for worker retraining, relocation and retirement incentives, as well as for assistance to local communities affected by the cutbacks.

Hardest hit by the budget request soon to be sent to Congress for its approval is likely to be the Savannah River, S.C., nuclear complex, where the Clinton administration has decided not to restart an idled reactor that produced tritium for nuclear warheads.

As many as 2,900 workers could lose their jobs at the sprawling complex, where tritium and plutonium were produced throughout the Cold War years.

Also scheduled for sharp cutbacks are the Rocky Flats plant outside Denver, which produced triggers for atomic warheads, and the complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn., where uranium components were fashioned.

Altogether, weapons work would be reduced from $7.2 billion to $5.9 billion under the proposed budget. But defense-related programs would still absorb a hefty portion of the department's budget because of the astronomical cost of cleaning up polluted weapons sites, the disassembly of warheads under arms agreements with Russia and preparations for weapons tests, now suspended by Congress.

The eventual cost of cleaning up weapons sites has been estimated as high as $300 billion.

Ms. O'Leary said yesterday that cleanup schedules negotiated by the Bush administration's Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency with affected states are receiving close scrutiny. While trimming back the weapons program and nuclear energy research, the administration is asking Congress to increase by more than $1 billion this year's outlays for energy conservation and renewable energy sources.

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