President Bush on Tuesday called on Congress to shift $166 million in savings gained this year from shutting down a major nuclear weapons project to new projects designed to guard against nuclear proliferation.
The request, which follows an Administration decision to halt construction of a $1-billion tritium-producing nuclear reactor, was described by Energy Secretary James D. Watkins as a shift in priorities from "swords to plowshares."
Bush announced the proposal during a campaign visit to the Sandia National Laboratories, where he said scientists would begin new efforts to help "detect and prevent the spread of weapons on land, at sea and in space."
At a briefing for reporters here, Watkins said the program would be designed to help thwart efforts like that pursued by Iraq's Saddam Hussein to develop nuclear weapons technology.
The Sandia facility, where jobs have been threatened by other budget cuts, would stand to gain about $64 million a year under the proposal. Watkins said the new influx would "dampen the downswing in a very cherished commodity that we call our national laboratories."
Bush did not directly mention the job-creation aspects of the program. But the event was the latest in a series of campaign appearances he has used to dispense federal largess.
The proposal, which Bush submitted to Congress on Tuesday, also designates $20 million to clean up nuclear waste at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina. It was to be the home of the new reactor producing tritium, an isotope that functions as the trigger to detonate nuclear weapons.
Because of the shutdown at the weapons reactor, the United States no longer produces tritium. But the Administration contends that its stockpiles are now sufficient to maintain a fully functioning nuclear arsenal.