Center for Arms Control

Whither the anti-terrorism budget?

Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on August 2, 2012

Article summary below; read the full text online.

Nuclear terrorism is the ultimate preventable catastrophe. If highly enriched uranium and plutonium are adequately secured or eliminated, they cannot be stolen for use in a nuclear device. In 2011, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted that "poorly secured stocks of [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials] provide potential source material for terror attacks." PDF Osama bin Laden may be dead, but the threat of nuclear terrorism remains.

President Barack Obama has been on the front lines of this fight, launching the first in a series of international nuclear security summits in 2010 to provide a global forum to support efforts to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, strengthen global nuclear materials security, and prevent nuclear terrorism. Since April 2009, when the Obama administration began implementing the four-year goal, the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), home to the key programs tasked with securing and eliminating nuclear material at an accelerated rate, has removed more than 1,200 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and plutonium -- including all the highly enriched uranium from eight countries, most recently Mexico and Ukraine this year. In addition, the agency has completed security upgrades at 32 Russian buildings containing weapons-usable materials and downblended 2.9 metric tons of Russia's highly enriched uranium so that it could no longer be used in nuclear weapons or reactors. This is a remarkable return on a relatively limited investment.

The Obama administration has rightly identified nuclear terrorism as one of the greatest threats to US national security and rightly acknowledged that the job of preventing it is far from over. So why does the administration's 2013 budget request, released in February 2012, slash funding for core nuclear terrorism prevention programs?

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