Congress just took a small but important bipartisan step to make America safer.
On July 13 the House of Representatives approved an amendment offered by Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), along with Rick Larsen (D-WA) and John Garamendi (D-CA), to increase by $35 million the funding for the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Reactor Conversion program -- a component of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.
This is a significant victory for nonproliferation. The Reactor Conversion program takes HEU, which can be used for a nuclear weapon, out of those research reactors in the world that still use this material for fuel. The reactors are then converted to run on a safer, non-weapons-usable form called low-enriched uranium (LEU). This program is part of the Obama administration's commitment to secure all vulnerable fissile materials worldwide in four years.
Rep. Fortenberry said:
Rep. Sanchez agreed:
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 United States spends a total of $54 billion per year on nuclear weapons and related programs. Much of that money is wasted, but programs like the Global Threat Reduction Initiative are our front-line defense against nuclear terrorism.
The danger that nuclear materials or weapons might spread to countries hostile to the United States or to terrorists is one of the gravest dangers to the United States - nonproliferation programs are critical to U.S. national security and must be a top priority.
As Congress continues its debates over the national debt and determines national security budget cuts, it should not take the axe to programs that are central to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and material around the world. The HEU Reactor Conversion program and the GTRI program are examples of these types of necessary programs, and this week's victory in the House should be celebrated -- no matter how minor.
Reps. Fortenberry, Sanchez, Larsen and Garamendi should be commended for their tireless efforts, as should all House members for their bipartisan cooperation to pass this amendment. A number of nongovernmental organizations were also instrumental in this success, including the Council for a Livable World, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Women's Action for New Directions, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.