Seante Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing on FY2004 Defense Authorization: Energy Department Weapons Programs

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: March 20, 2003
Location: Washington, DC


FDCH TRANSCRIPTS
Congressional Hearings
Mar. 20, 2003

Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing on FY2004 Defense Authorization: Energy Department Weapons Programs

GRAHAM:

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    Welcome, Mr. Secretary. I'll continue some of the things that Senator Sessions was talking about. But I want to congratulate you and thank you for appointing Jeff Allison (ph) as the site manager at Savannah River. I think we're all going to be very pleased with that, and I appreciate that. Jeff has done a good job and will continue to.

    To change the subject just a little bit -- we'll get back to pits in a moment -- the MOX program, as you know, is a big deal to the country and certainly to the Savannah River Site, and I appreciate the budget allocation this year. One of the concerns that I have is the Russian program. Can you give us a little update about exactly where the Russians are with their MOX facility? What's the outlook there?

ABRAHAM:

    Well, we feel very positive about recent developments on the Russian side of the plutonium disposition agreement. We have reached an agreement -- the Russians have reached a positive decision with respect to the design of their facility. That had been one of the impediments, if you will, or one of the things that kept them from moving quickly. That has now been achieved.

    The success the president had last year with the development of the global partnership initiative to recruit and encourage other members of the G-8 to join a partnership to provide $20 billion over the next decade for programs, nonproliferation programs in Russia, I think, has changed some of the funding dynamics in a favorable way so that the funding for the Russian program, I think, is on the right track, and we are confident --

GRAHAM:

    Do you feel confident --

ABRAHAM:

    Yes, we think that that part of the program -- and, obviously, a reflection of our confidence is in the budget submission we've made, where we've now made a major commitment in this proposal for the beginning of construction in Savannah River.

GRAHAM:

    So you think the Russians are going to keep pace with us, generally speaking?

ABRAHAM:

    I believe the Russian program is on its track now in a much more -- it won't be exactly level to ours, but now it's moving ahead in a way that is much -- I think much improved over where we were a year ago.

GRAHAM:

    Along the lines of the questions by Senator Sessions, I think -- at least what I'm trying to say, and I think what we're all trying to say here a bit, is that a new pit production facility makes sense to us. I applaud you for going down this road, and the sooner the better for, I think, most of us.

    Even though we're trying to appropriately reduce the amount of nuclear weapons available to the former Soviet Union and ourselves in a responsible way, trying to lessen the dangers, I think there's a feeling here among most of us, and I believe the administration, too, that you always have to maintain currency and viability. So a pit production facility that can make sure that we have the state-of-the- art new generation technology to marry up with delivery systems, I think, would be something most of us would be supportive of, and I don't think they are contrary goals at all.

    Trying to modernize your ability to produce and maintain a viable nuclear deterrent force in the future is not contrary to trying to lessen the dangers. So I would applaud you for what you've done and encourage you to continue, and I hope you bring it to Savannah River Site.

    Now, Senator Chambliss, my colleague from Georgia, has been very supportive of the site. One thing I think we've had going for us at the Savannah River Site is South Carolina and North Carolina delegations, and I'm told that recently, good leadership in the governor's office. I think that's changed now, that you'll have somebody you can work with in Governor Sanford. I know he's very concerned about hydrogen research.

    Savannah River has a very rich tradition of hydrogen research. We developed a hydrogen bus several years ago, and the Savannah River Technology Center -- do you have any plans for that center in terms of hydrogen research, and could you give us a little overview of where we're going with hydrogen from the department's point of view?

ABRAHAM:

    Yes. Let me say that we're definitely, as you well know, expanding our hydrogen fuel cell programs. We haven't made decisions as to where and when research will be conducted.

    But the president has committed a $1.7 billion program over the next five years. The design of that program will be focusing on research on hydrogen production, hydrogen storage, on our capability of effectively reducing the cost of hydrogen fuel cell generation, and so a variety of programs will now be launched.

    The goal is to really, in the next five years, jump-start the high-risk research that needs to be conducted in order for us to really make this transition that we envision to a hydrogen economy, one that would see motor vehicles powered by the fuel cells. And we haven't made decisions yet as to where all that research will be conducted, but it will obviously be a very robust program.

GRAHAM:

    Well, I think Savannah River could help you there, and we're definitely interested. The last thing is the Savannah River Technology Center. We'd like to see that expanded. There's a real user friendly environment in South Carolina and Georgia for such projects, and we're definitely working on a next generation nuclear reactor. That's one area of our energy economy that I think has been neglected.

    I applaud you for having a friendlier attitude toward nuclear power as a non-emitting, safe form of energy. I think our country has been neglectful in the past to kind of let the technology become stagnant, and I would certainly encourage you to look at a research site, Savannah River being one of them, obviously, for the next generation nuclear reactors.

    And with that, I appreciate what you're doing for our country.