On July 13, the House approved an amendment to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2354) offered by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) to increase the appropriation for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative by $35 million.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the chair of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, and Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, both spoke in favor of the amendment, which was adopted on a voice vote.
The result is an important bipartisan victory for the international effort to secure and eliminate vulnerable nuclear material at an accelerated rate and keep our nation safe from the threat of nuclear terrorism – especially in light of the current budget environment and recent irresponsible cuts to nuclear security programs in the House. The Senate should capitalize on Reps. Fortenberry and Sanchez’s leadership and restore what remains of the House cut to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative when it takes up the Energy and Water bill later this year…
On June 15, the House Appropriations Committee appropriated $2.086 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, a reduction of $463 million below the FY 2012 request of $2.549 billion. For a detailed breakdown of the appropriation, see our analysis here.
Within the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, the Committee reduced by $120 million (or 24%) the administration’s FY 2012 request for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the key program in the effort to lock down and eliminate dangerous nuclear materials around the world. The cut comes on the heels of a $123 million (or 22%) cut to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative below the FY 2011 request in the final FY 2011 Continuing Resolution.
Technically the Fortenberry-Sanchez amendment restores $35 million to the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, as the bill language does not provide detail at the subaccount level. However, the clear intent of Congress as expressed by Reps. Fortenberry and Sanchez is that the additional funds be used for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, specifically the Highly Enriched Uranium Reactor Conversion program.
The Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Reactor Conversion program supports the conversion of domestic and international research reactors and medical isotope production facilities that use HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU). Dozens of reactors worldwide are still powered by HEU, many of which are not adequately secured. Unlike HEU, LEU cannot be used to make a nuclear bomb.
The National Nuclear Security Administration requested $148.3 million for Highly Enriched Uranium Reactor Conversion in FY 2012. The Appropriations Committee cut $70 million from this program, nearly half the request.
As I detailed here, the $70 million cut would delay the essential effort to accelerate the elimination of the use of HEU in civilian applications, including reactor conversions currently underway in Poland, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ghana, and Nigeria. Delays in reactor conversions would also postpone the final removal of vulnerable HEU from numerous countries, since HEU cannot be removed until the reactor has been converted to use LEU and the HEU is removed from the reactor core.
As Sanchez outlined in her statement on the amendment, the restoration of $35 million, or nearly half the cut to the program, would ensure that many of these vital efforts remain on track.
The Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to draft its version of the bill in September. The restoration of additional funds on the House floor will provide strong momentum for increased funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative in the Senate.
There is an overwhelming bipartisan consensus that the greatest threat to U.S. national security is the threat of nuclear terrorism. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative is America’s first line of defense against this threat.
In his statement on the House floor Rep. Fortenberry argued:
I am committed to strengthening momentum on efforts to secure fissile materials and prevent the proliferation and misuse of sensitive nuclear materials and technologies here and around the world….There are some relatively straightforward steps that we can take to reduce our vulnerabilities, and one of these is to strengthen the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.
The House cut to this program the last two budget years is difficult to comprehend, since it counters the most serious threat confronting our national security: the threat of nuclear terrorism.
The restoration of $35 million is a step in the right direction toward reversing these reckless cuts.