The U.S. Department of Energy’s FY 2011 Budget Request

When President Obama rolled out his proposed budget to Congress for the coming year, he said it would build “on the largest investment in clean energy in history.” But Obama’s definition of “clean energy” includes a commitment to help companies garner billions of dollars in loans for nuclear reactor construction. And, unfortunately, nuclear energy isn’t safe or clean and it’s too costly for the nation.

The Energy Department faces a brave new world in which, for the first time, it’s being called on to employ millions of Americans to create a new energy future for the United States. But it doesn’t appear that the Obama administration will meet this challenge. Instead, more of the nation’s tapped-out treasure is going for costly nuclear power, and nuclear weapons we don’t need and could never use.

Despite Obama’s rhetoric about reshaping America’s energy future, he’s asking for a budget that would have the Energy Department continue to spend 10 times more on nuclear weapons than energy conservation. More than 65 percent of our energy budget covers military nuclear activities and the cleanup of weapons sites. Its single largest expenditure maintains some 9,200 intact nuclear warheads. Even though the department hasn’t built a new nuclear weapon for 20 years, its weapons complex is spending at rates comparable to that during the height of the nuclear arms race in the 1950s. Even with economic stimulus funding, the department’s actual energy functions comprise only 15 percent of its total budget and continue to take a backseat to propping up the nations’ large and antiquated nuclear weapons infrastructure. In fact, the Energy Department’s proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year, minus stimulus money, looks a whole lot like it did in the Bush administration, and as it has during several presidents’ tenures.

Robert Alvarez is a senior scholar at IPS, where he is currently focused on nuclear disarmament, environmental, and energy policies. Between 1993 and 1999, Mr. Alvarez served as a Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for National Security and the Environment.