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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


By Mr. OBAMA (for himself and Mr. Hagel):

S. 1977. A bill to provide for sustained United States leadership in a cooperative global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism, reduce global nuclear arsenals, stop the spread of nuclear weapons and related material and technology, and support the responsible and peaceful use of nuclear technology; to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology and the possibility that a nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of terrorists constitute the most urgent threat to our national security. As experts on this issue such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Bill Perry, and Sam Nunn have all warned, our current policies to deal with the threat posed by nuclear weapons are simply not adequate.

We know al-Qaida has made it a goal to acquire a nuclear weapon. At the same time, significant quantities of the material necessary to make one remain vulnerable to theft in various parts of the world. And, to make matters worse, the world may be on the brink of a new and dangerous era with a growing number of nuclear-armed states, as illustrated by North Korea's nuclear test last year and Iran's refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program.

So today, along with Senator Hagel, I am introducing the Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act, which provides for sustained U.S. leadership in a global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism, reduce global nuclear arsenals, and stop the spread of nuclear weapons around the world.

Securing nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material at their source is the most direct and reliable way to prevent nuclear terrorism. Thanks to the leadership of Senators NUNN and LUGAR in creating the Cooperative Threat Reduction program at the Department of Defense, there is no question that we have made significant progress in securing nuclear stockpiles. But there are still significant quantities of weapons-usable nuclear material that remain vulnerable to theft. In the civilian sector alone, there are an estimated 60 tons of highly enriched uranium, enough to make over 1,000 nuclear bombs, spread out at facilities in over 40 countries around the world. Many of these facilities do not have adequate physical security, leaving the material vulnerable to theft.

The insecure storage of nuclear stockpiles has already led to an alarming number of attempted exchanges of small quantities of dangerous nuclear materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, confirmed 16 incidents between 1993 and 2005 that involved trafficking in relatively small amounts of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. That is 16 incidents too many, in my opinion, and 16 incidents that should not have been allowed to happen.

Experts believe that a sophisticated terrorist group could potentially construct a crude nuclear bomb if it obtained the necessary amount of plutonium or highly enriched uranium. The 9/11 Commission concluded that a trained nuclear engineer with an amount of highly enriched uranium or plutonium about the size of a grapefruit or an orange could make a nuclear device that would level Lower Manhattan. Simply put, our ability to secure nuclear stockpiles around the world is what stands between the safety of the American people and a terrorism incident of almost unimaginable horror.

It is imperative that we build and lead a truly global effort to secure all stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material to the highest standards to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. It is also essential that we make preventing nuclear terrorism a top presidential priority--with the resources, diplomatic effort and funding to match the threat. We need to work with other countries to ensure effective and sustainable security of nuclear stockpiles and to ensure that the highest priority is placed on security of those weapons and materials that pose the greatest risk.

The Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act requires the President to submit to Congress a comprehensive threat reduction plan for ensuring that all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material at vulnerable sites are secure by 2012. The plan must clearly designate agency responsibility and accountability, specify program goals and metrics for measuring progress, and outline estimated schedules and budget requirements.

To meet this ambitious goal, the bill calls for accelerating U.S. programs to secure, consolidate, and reduce stocks of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material, including highly enriched uranium at civilian nuclear facilities worldwide. Additional funding is authorized for the Department of Energy's Global Threat Reduction Initiative, an important program that secures and removes high-risk nuclear materials from vulnerable locations around the world.

The bill calls for the United States to work cooperatively with other countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, to develop and implement a comprehensive set of standards and best practices to provide effective physical protection and accounting for all stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material.

The bill also authorizes additional funding to improve our ability to trace the origin of nuclear material that might be transferred or used in a terrorist attack so that responsible parties can be held accountable.

Given the nature of the threat we face from nuclear terrorism, we can't succeed if we act alone. Indeed, the danger of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism reminds us of how critical global cooperation will be to U.S. security in the 21st century. America must lead in rebuilding the alliances and partnerships necessary to meet common challenges and confront common threats. And this legislation seeks to provide the tools to do just that.

While nuclear terrorism remains a dire threat to our security, it is only one part of the overall threat posed by nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act also addresses the need to reduce global arsenals and prevent the emergence of additional nuclear-armed nations. In all too many respects, the essential bargain that stands at the core of the nuclear nonproliferation regime is unraveling. Countries like North Korea and Iran are demonstrating that nuclear technology acquired for ostensibly civilian purposes can provide the basis for producing nuclear weapons. At the same time, established nuclear powers retain large arsenals and are reemphasizing the importance of nuclear weapons to their security.

At the end of the Cold War, many had hoped and believed that the world was moving in the right direction to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons. America and Russia agreed to significant reductions in their massive nuclear arsenals. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine were persuaded to give up their post-Soviet nuclear arsenals. The U.S.-Russian Cooperative Threat Reduction or Nunn-Lugar program was established. In 1994, North Korea agreed to halt its plutonium production program. And in 1995, over 180 nations agreed to take further steps to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, NPT, and agreed to extend the treaty indefinitely.

In the last 6 years, however, these positive trends have stalled--and in some cases regressed. While promising to leave the Cold War behind, President Bush abandoned the very policies his successors had pursued to bring the Cold War weapons competition to a peaceful and successful end. He unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He refused to support ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. He opted for an arms reduction agreement with Russia in 2002 that does not include new verification provisions, does not require the dismantling of warheads or missiles, and allows each side to stockpile thousands of nondeployed weapons. And after ignoring the findings of U.N. weapons inspectors on the ground and launching a preemptive war against Iraq, President Bush lost much of the international goodwill that is required to mobilize global support to strengthen the beleaguered nuclear nonproliferation regime.

The Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act calls for a balanced and comprehensive set of initiatives that would strengthen the global nonproliferation regime. The bill authorizes $50 million to support the creation of a low enriched uranium reserve administered by the IAEA that would help guarantee the availability of fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. This international fuel bank can play an important role in dissuading countries from building their own uranium enrichment facilities. Additional funding is also authorized for the IAEA's Department of Safeguards to improve its ability to conduct effective inspections.

To win the struggle against nuclear proliferation, we must also have the courage to lead by example. The bill calls for talks with Russia to reduce the number of nonstrategic nuclear weapons and further reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons in Russian and U.S stockpiles in a transparent and verifiable fashion, and in a manner consistent with the security of the United States. It also calls for considering changes in the alert status of U.S. and Russian forces to reduce the risk of an accidental, unauthorized, or mistaken launch of nuclear weapons.

Other initiatives called for in the bill include reaffirming support for and strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, taking steps to reconsider and ratify a global ban on nuclear testing, pursuing a long-overdue global agreement to verifiably halt the production of fissile material for weapons, and fully implementing the Lugar-Obama initiative that strengthens the ability of friendly foreign countries to stop the transfer of weapons of mass destruction and related material.

With a bold, comprehensive approach and strong U.S. leadership, we can--and must--make significant strides in reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons. America must lead the way again by marshalling a global effort to meet the challenge that rises above all others in urgency securing, destroying, and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This bill, I believe, makes a significant contribution toward that goal, and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.

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