WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday he was very concerned about plans in the House of Representatives to cut $1 billion from funding to upgrade nuclear weapons infrastructure.
Gates told a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee that funding for nuclear modernization had been carefully worked out between the Pentagon and the Department of Energy, which oversees the program.
"This modernization project is, in my view, both from a security and a political standpoint, really important," he told the committee, noting that the House was considering legislation that would cut the funding by about $1 billion in fiscal 2012.
Gates said the project involves a considerable amount of new construction, including replacing buildings at Los Alamos, New Mexico, that date from the time of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb.
He said the modernization plans had helped to convince the Senate to support the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia in December.
"Where we came out on that ... played a fairly significant role in the willingness of the Senate to ratify the New START agreement," Gates told the panel.
Cutting the funds, he said, will hamper efforts to maintain the weapons themselves.
"The risks are to our program in terms of being able to extend the life of our weapons systems, to modernize them not in the sense of capability, but in terms of security and reliability," Gates said.
During Senate negotiations over the New START treaty, the Obama administration agreed to spend some $85 billion over the next decade to modernize the nation's nuclear infrastructure. It also plans to spend $100 billion to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear delivery systems.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)