Senators: Spending Bill Would Boost Efforts to Secure Nuclear Material

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks on Capitol Hill on June 4. On Tuesday, Feinstein's Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee approved a fiscal 2015 spending bill.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
June 17, 2014, 9:41 a.m.

Sen­ate ap­pro­pri­at­ors said Tues­day that their spend­ing bill for fisc­al 2015 in­cludes sev­er­al meas­ures meant to aid ef­forts to shield nuc­le­ar and ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als from ter­ror­ists.

The bill, which the Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee on En­ergy and Wa­ter ap­proved un­an­im­ously, in­cludes a pro­vi­sion that would re­quire the U.S. Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion “to es­tab­lish min­im­um se­cur­ity stand­ards for ra­di­olo­gic­al sources at med­ic­al and in­dus­tri­al fa­cil­it­ies,” ac­cord­ing to a sum­mary of the le­gis­la­tion.

The doc­u­ment notes that “re­cent in­vest­ig­a­tions found that these sources are vul­ner­able to theft, and cur­rent reg­u­la­tions are not suf­fi­cient to pro­tect the pub­lic against ra­di­olo­gic­al ter­ror­ism.”

NRC of­fi­cials said in 2012 that they had is­sued new rules meant to ad­dress any short­com­ings, but a seni­or in­vest­ig­at­or at the non­par­tis­an Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire at the time that the reg­u­la­tions would not do enough.

While full de­tails of the Sen­ate bill are not ex­pec­ted to be avail­able un­til later this week, the le­gis­la­tion re­com­mends $1.9 bil­lion — $24 mil­lion above the fisc­al year 2014 level and $423 mil­lion above the budget re­quest — “for non­pro­lif­er­a­tion activ­it­ies that re­duce the threat of ter­ror­ism.”

The funds, which would go to the En­ergy De­part­ment’s Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion, “will ac­cel­er­ate ef­forts to se­cure and per­man­ently elim­in­ate re­main­ing stock­piles of dan­ger­ous nuc­le­ar and ra­di­olo­gic­al ma­ter­i­als around the world,” ac­cord­ing to the an­nounce­ment.

Part of this fund­ing in­crease would go to­ward con­tro­ver­sial ef­forts to con­vert Cold-War era weapons ma­ter­i­al in­to re­act­or fuel — an ef­fort that has been cri­ti­cized by many non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ad­voc­ates. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is look­ing to put an un­fin­ished plant ded­ic­ated to the con­ver­sion on “cold standby” while it pur­sues oth­er, pos­sibly cheap­er, ways to dis­pose of the ma­ter­i­al.

Sen­at­or Lind­sey Gra­ham (R-S.C.) said dur­ing Tues­day’s markup ses­sion that the bill would “re­store fund­ing to get out of cold standby.” He said the le­gis­la­tion would “al­low the pro­gram to go for­ward, and we’ll have some time to fig­ure out how to make it cost ef­fect­ive.”

Last week, House ap­pro­pri­at­ors ap­proved a bill that would provide $350 mil­lion to con­tin­ue the MOX pro­gram.

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