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National Defense Authoriazation Act for Fiscal Year 2005

Location: Washington DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I am proud to co-sponsor the amendment offered by my colleagues, Senator DOMENICI and Senator FEINSTEIN, which authorizes a program to accelerate U.S. efforts to remove, secure, store, or destroy fissile and radiological material that might otherwise be accessible to rogue states or terrorists.

There could hardly be a higher priority-it is clear that terrorists seek to acquire materials to make a nuclear bomb. Many experts believe that terrorists would be capable of creating a nuclear weapon if they took possession of fissile material. Even the simpler, gun-type design, the type of bomb exploded at Hiroshima, could kill from tens of thousands to a million people if detonated in a large city.

Terrorists are also known to be interested in radiological material for a so-called "dirty bomb," also known as a radiological dispersion device. While an attack with a dirty bomb would not cause many fatalities, it could render large areas uninhabitable and cause long-term economic devastation and psychological damage.

I thank Senator DOMENICI, and Senator FEINSTEIN for their work and leadership on this issue. Senator DOMENICI, in his role as Chairman of the Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, has done much to shape the nuclear non-proliferation programs at the Department of Energy. Senator FEINSTEIN, also a member of that subcommittee, introduced legislation to facilitate the removal of nuclear material from vulnerable sites around the world. They have worked together to craft the bipartisan amendment before us today.

While many raised the alarm about the possibility of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction before September 11, 2001, the events of that day made clear to all what devastation could have been wrought had the terrorists attacked with weapons of mass destruction.

Witnesses at a hearing I chaired before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 6, 2002, emphasized the need for multiple layers of defense against nuclear terrorism and said that the very first priority must be controlling fissile and radioactive material in the United States and abroad.

Since that time, there has been progress in securing, storing and destroying fissile and radiological material. But much more needs to be done.

The Department of Energy's International Materials Protection, Control, and Cooperation Program and its Radiological Dispersion Devices Program seek to secure nuclear weapons, weapons-usable nuclear materials, and radiological sources by upgrading security and consolidating these materials.

From fiscal year 1993 through this fiscal year, 2004, Congress has appropriated $1.58 billion for these Department of Energy programs, mostly to secure nuclear weapons and nuclear material in Russia. Because of them, and the related Cooperative Threat Reduction programs at the Department of Defense, hundreds of tons of bomb material is more secure and the nuclear material that could have been made into thousands of nuclear weapons has been destroyed.

Why, when so much has been accomplished, is this amendment necessary?

One answer is that while much has indeed been accomplished in Russia, highly enriched uranium, or HEU, and plutonium exist in many countries and in both military and civilian sites. There are 345 operational or shut research reactors that used HEU in 58 countries. Many of these countries have inadequate resources to operate or clean up these reactors. Few of them can afford to convert their HEU-fueled reactors, or their HEU targets used to produce medical isotopes, without outside assistance.

Another answer is that even in Russia, only a fraction of its highly enriched uranium has been destroyed. Many experts, including those involved with the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University, have urged that efforts be accelerated to "blend down" highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium, which is usable for nuclear power, but not readily for weapons. At current rates, it could take decades to blend down Russia's excess HEU. The urgency of the potential threat from the tons of HEU in Russia argues for a more robust program that would blend down HEU in years, not decades. The amendment before us today wisely authorizes an acceleration of our HEU blend-down programs.

In addition to authorizing accelerated HEU recovery and blend-down programs, this amendment would accelerate our efforts to help move nuclear facilities away from the use of HEU in nuclear reactor fuel and medical isotope production. It will also encourage increased efforts to recover and secure plutonium and radiological sources that might otherwise be accessible to terrorists.

The Domenici-Feinstein amendment provides for a comprehensive program to: securely ship at-risk fissile and radiological materials; raise processing and packing standards; provide interim security upgrades and improve management of vulnerable sites; manage materials at secure facilities; provide technical assistance to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as to countries; and provide assistance in the closure of risky sites.

This amendment will also improve our efforts to convert risky sites to, and place displaced nuclear workers in, activities that do not represent a proliferation threat. Both the Department of Energy and the Department of State have programs to help displaced workers, but there many worthy projects in this area go unfunded each year. We can and we must do more to ensure that nuclear weapons scientists and technical personnel are not left prey to the lures of contracts in rogue states or sales to terrorists.

The Domenici-Feinstein amendment will not solve all the problems that our non-proliferation programs face. We also need sustained attention by the President to removing roadblocks that have hindered our existing programs in Russia. Whether the question is access to sites, or immunity from taxation, or immunity from liability for U.S. persons involved in these programs, we need effective intervention at the highest level to solve those problems. It would be ironic, indeed, if our authorization of accelerated efforts were to be undone by the inability of President Bush and Putin to work out the implementation of those programs.

This amendment must do more than spur the Department of Energy to put more resources into our non-proliferation programs. It must galvanize the government at the highest levels to do more and do it quickly, before some terrorist group gains access to fissile our radiological material and uses it against us.

I commend Senators DOMENICI and FEINSTEIN for their important amendment and I urge my colleagues to support it.

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