Friday, July 6, 2007

Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Act: A Step in the Right Direction

Sen. Hillary Clinton circulated a Dear Colleague letter last week, urging her fellow Senators to join her in supporting S. 1705, the Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, a bill she recently introduced. An identical bill, H.R. 2891, was introduced in the House by Rep. Ellen Tauscher the same day, and has seven co-sponsors. The bills are currently in the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees, but could be introduced as amendments to the Defense Authorization bills when Congress reconvenes next week as well.

The letter states that the bill “would establish the position of Senior Advisor to the President for the Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism,” with the “sole focus” of the position being “to develop and coordinate the implementation of a strategy to prevent nuclear terrorism.” Working under the direction of the National Security Advisor, the post would be responsible for overseeing and improving current programs, identifying new initiatives, and overseeing and coordinating the development of budget requests relating to nuclear terrorism.

According to the letter, the bill would also “require the President to work with the international community to establish a specific minimum standard for nuclear security and to work with other countries in meeting and maintaining this minimum standard.”

The President would also be required to submit an annual report to Congress that would include:

1. a list of all sites worldwide with nuclear weapons and weapons-usable fissile material, including a sub-list of the most vulnerable sites where security upgrades are needed urgently;

2. a prioritized diplomatic and technical plan – including measurable milestones, metrics, estimated timetables and estimated costs of implementation – to eliminate, remove, and/or secure and account for all weapons-usable fissile material at these sites, and to maintain security at these sites once U.S. assistance ends;

3. progress in implementing the diplomatic and technical plan, including a description of other countries’ efforts to secure their own weapons-usable fissile material;

4. an update on efforts to establish and implement the minimum nuclear security standard.

To achieve these goals, “the bill would authorize up to $400 million in additional funding [for FY’08] to energize and accelerate existing programs to prevent nuclear terrorism,” including:

  • $50 million for the DOE’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative to convert research reactors around the world from highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium and to remove the highly enriched uranium from such facilities, typically repatriating the material back to the U.S. or Russia.
  • $40 million for DOE’s National Technical Nuclear Forensics R&D Program to further ongoing efforts to develop the capability to attribute the origin of a nuclear weapon if there is a nuclear terrorist attack against the U.S., U.S. forces around the world, or U.S. allies.
  • $10 million to State for the IAEA’s Office of Nuclear Security to provide international guidelines on nuclear security (including working with the U.S. and other countries to implement the minimum nuclear security standard) and manage the international database of nuclear smuggling incidents.
  • Conditional authorization of $100 million for improvement and expansion of the DOE’s Material Protection, Control and Accounting (MPC&A) program to provide for security upgrades at vulnerable sites and facilities around the world that hold nuclear weapons and materials; to ensure that the security upgrades already in place can be maintained by the host country; and to develop and enforce nuclear security regulations. The money could be released if the Administration certifies to Congress that diplomatic progress has been made that would enable security upgrades at certain Russian facilities that have not yet received them or at facilities in other countries that possess nuclear weapons or materials.
  • Conditional authorization of $200 million for the expansion and acceleration of DOE’s “Megatons to Megawatts” program. The money could be released if the Administration certifies to Congress that Russia acknowledges the need to downblend additional HEU that is in excess to its national security needs. The money would primarily be used to assist Russia to enhance its downblending capacity, which would enable the downblending of more HEU each year.

The Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Act would be a major step in the right direction. Numerous policy experts, notably Graham Allison, have long argued for the need of a “nuclear terrorism czar” to develop and coordinate the implementation of a strategy to prevent nuclear terrorism. The establishment of this position would go a long way in matching the dire rhetoric surrounding nuclear terrorism with actual deed by creating a point person tasked with the responsibility and authority to act.

Requiring the President to work with the international community to establish and maintain a minimum standard for nuclear security is similarly a strong policy option, but one that is likely to meet resistance from the current administration (that already claims that existing efforts are sufficient) as being an undue impingement on the executive. Other concerns will hover over what the minimum standard for nuclear security will be and how to persuade or entice other countries to adopt and enact a strong standard.

Likewise, requiring the President to submit an annual report to Congress and authorizing additional funding to energize and accelerate existing programs to prevent nuclear terrorism are also positive steps forward. But success in upgrading and maintaining the security at vulnerable sites and facilities lies heavily on whether diplomatic progress on these issues can be made – something that has proven exceedingly difficult to overcome in a diplomatic climate warmer than the current standoff between the U.S. and Russia.

While still more is needed, the bottom line is that Sen. Clinton and Rep. Tauscher get an ‘A’ for effort in crafting legislation that could go a long way in slowing the ticking clock of nuclear terrorism, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding.


Russ Wellen said...

Thanks for turning us on to Mr. Nuclear Terrorism's latest article, Bo and Luke, I mean Kyle and Jeff. Because of his past working for the government and as head of the Belfer Center, he can't be discounted as alarmist.

Nuclear Terrorism remains the seminal work on the subject. I work in Manhattan and, after reading it, was pretty shaken. I mean, the prospect of melting to death in front of your co-workers is so embarrassing.

If you want alarmist, try Paul L. Williams (The Al Qaeda Connection, Osama's Revenge). He's sort of the poor man's (or, as a darling of the likes of, the right-wing man's) Graham Allison.

Try nuclear suitcases buried in upstate New York, terrorists humping nuclear materials over the Mexican border -- that kind of stuff. Even with him, though, his footnotes and references are too sound to discount.

Jeff Lindemyer said...

Russ, Always nice to meet a fellow Graham Allison groupie. Living and working close to some of the most likely targets in Washington, D.C. myself, I can relate. I haven't come across much by Paul Williams, but will look into his work -- alarmism can be interesting, too. Either way, you might also be interested a brief back-and-forth on Digg regarding the article (link chopped into 3 pieces):