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Mr. FORTENBERRY. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to thank both the chairman and the ranking member of the subcommittee for the opportunity to discuss an important problem in our Nation's nuclear security infrastructure and for their support of this amendment.
The amendment would reduce funding for the mixed oxide fuel program at the Department of Energy by approximately $17 million and redirect it to the National Nuclear Security Administration's Global Threat Reduction Initiative. Such a redirection of funds would provide for greater security and be a wiser investment of taxpayer dollars.
If there is one thing we can all agree on, Mr. Chairman, it is that dollars are scarce in Washington. And with this in mind, I'm concerned about the amount of money that has been spent on the mixed oxide fuel program, known as MOX, at the DOE.
Under an agreement signed by the United States and Russia in 2000, both countries agreed to dispose of excess weapons-grade plutonium by blending it with uranium to create mixed oxide fuel. The intent was to use it as a fuel in civilian nuclear reactors. Subsequently, the Department of Energy spent billions on the mixed oxide fuel project. The fuel is intended for a market segment that has yet to emerge, and according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Energy has had to consider offering subsidies to attract potential customers for the fuel. The most optimistic estimates predict that the mixed oxide production facility will begin operating 6 years behind schedule.
Another problem is that the mixed oxide fuel project poses a new nuclear nonproliferation risk as MOX fuel can be separated into weapons-grade nuclear material. In addition, the Russians have not lived up to their treaty obligations. They have fallen behind on their own MOX production schedule. As a result, the United States has had to step in and provide our own designs for the MOX plant to jump-start Russia's.
As a cofounder of the House Nuclear Security Caucus, Mr. Chairman, I feel confident that the funding removed from the mixed oxide fuel program will be put to much better use protecting our Nation through the global threat reduction initiative.
By the end of the current year, the global threat reduction initiative will have converted or shut down 81 research reactors, removed over 3,400 kilograms of vulnerable nuclear material, and secured nearly 1,400 buildings containing radiological materials. There are other important global threat reduction initiatives as well that could use additional funding.
We should be proud of our work as a country in our nuclear security efforts, but it is abundantly clear that the mixed oxide fuel program is not the most productive use of our constituents' taxpayer dollars. The persistence of nuclear threats demands that we retain the highest sense of vigilance and agility when it comes to our own nuclear security, and for that reason, I urge the adoption of this amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.
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