Select Quotes on Nuclear Security Funding from Congressional Hearings

By Nickolas Roth
The Obama administration has proposed significant cuts to nuclear security programs.   The House Armed Services Committee bill would reduce the scale of the cuts for one nuclear security program (the Global Threat Reduction Initiative) while aggressively slashing another (International Material Protection and Cooperation); the debate over nuclear security spending will likely continue throughout the year. I’ve pulled some select quotes from Congressional hearings on nuclear security, which I plan to update as needed.

The threat of nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest national security threats that we have. And our nation must make real progress towards securing stockpiles of fissionable material. This budget request seems to send the wrong signal to the rest of the world. Given the instability of the world, not just between Ukraine and Russia, but increasing the budget for things like the Global Threat Reduction Initiative would be a wise investment. Instead, this request proposes to reduce this program by 25 percent. And I would note that this is a program which has removed 234 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium – enough for nine nuclear weapons from Ukrainian soil – eliminating the risk of this material falling into the wrong hands.”
--Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, April 3, 2014.

 “…there is no shortage of work to be done in this area since even the smallest quantities of weapons of mass destruction would pose a significant threat to the United States and our allies.”
--Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, April 1, 2014.

Explanation of how increased funding to upgrade nuclear weapons is slowing nuclear security work: “…on the nuclear security, we must meet our commitments to the Department of Defense. We had to stretch out some other things to do that. But we must do that.”
-- Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, April 2, 2014.

“…one of the most important things that you and I can do, in our time of public service, is to ensure that we decrease the probability of the use of a nuclear device to as close to zero as possible…. We can't react, it's too severe. We have to prevent.”
--Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, April 2, 2014.

“Now, in terms of the budget, I mean there's no question that the …the GTRI program does have a reduction in….I'm disappointed that we could not do a little bit better with the budget…But it's the question of… balancing these priorities, we felt we just had to get the weapons program on track.”
-- Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, April 2, 2014.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (Dianne Feinstein photo)

 “Two weeks ago, President Obama stated that what kept him up at night was, quote, "The prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan," unquote. However, the budget request makes nuclear weapons and naval reactor programs the highest priority at the expense of nonproliferation …activities. This is hard for me to understand – why we would cut programs to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists especially when Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups have repeatedly shown interest in acquiring weapons-grade material…. What I see are additional cuts to well-managed programs that have made this country safer from nuclear terrorism at the expense of increased funding for poorly-managed nuclear weapons programs. And I say that with justification that I believe you know about. Slashing programs that prevent nuclear terrorism and protect the health and safety of communities from the effects of nuclear weapons production is a major concern and I hope you're prepared with a good explanation.”
-- Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, April 9, 2014. 

“While much was accomplished under the four-year effort, serious threats still remain. Significant stockpiles of HEU still exist in too many places and global inventories of plutonium are steadily rising…FY 2015 priority efforts include the removal of an additional 125 kilograms of HEU and plutonium from high priority countries; the protection of an additional 105 buildings with high-activity radioactive sources; the consolidation of all category I/II material into a new high security zone at a nuclear material site in Russia; preventing illicit trafficking by closing key gaps in the radiation detection architecture through the provision of fixed and mobile detection equipment; and the initiation of new nuclear security activities in the Middle East.
-- Acting National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Bruce Held, Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, April 10, 2014.

Congressman William Keating (D-MA) on Russia: …when it comes to nuclear security, the stakes are much too high to break off communication.”
--Joint Hearing House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats and Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, April 29, 2014.

Select Q&A from Congressional Hearings on Nuclear Security

“Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington: Thank you, sir. We view the work that we do in Russia, which focuses on the security of both the material and facilities and, in some cases, the actual weapons that were once a threat to this country, as vital to U.S. national interests. So we hope that both we and the Russians would be able to continue with that kind of work…In terms of the 2015 budget, there's -- out of the $1.55 billion – there's something around $100 million for programs that work with Russia. Of that, about 25 percent goes to our own laboratories to support the technical expertise to bring into the projects. 

Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID): So the short answer I would give to people is this was actually in our own interest, not just ... Russian interest and the world's interest.” 
--House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, April 3, 2014.

“Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH): What are we not doing with this budget request that you have put before us that might jeopardize that security? You said you wrote some money into 2014 from past accounts, but -- I mean, we look upon at this quite a severe cut, so is there something on the terrorism side that is at risk here? 

Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington (NNSA photo)

Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington:  We believe that we are hitting the major points. When you do programs like ours, the globe is a pretty big place and there is almost an infinite amount of work that can be done. And our job is to work corporately within the interagency with the intelligence community to come up with the best prioritization for those programs that we can. So, when you asked if there are work that could be done, of course, there is. If you ask, do we think we're hitting the priorities that we need to be hit, yes, I do think we are.” 
-- House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, April 3, 2014.

“Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH): Not knowing what the future is going to bring, do you feel that NNSA has already been able to secure the most high risk materials in Russia? Or are there notable risks that remain? 

Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington: There are notable risks that remain. There are still a great many sites that contain nuclear weapon capable materials, a next step in our work with Russia is to try to consolidate those materials into fewer facilities that are better guarded and better secured.

And most importantly, to get to the point where we feel confident that Russia is committed both in terms of a budget as well as its own security culture to maintaining the standard of security that we have helped to implement in that country.” 
--House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, April 3, 2014.

“Congressman James Langevin (D-RI):  It's my understand that Moscow's unwillingness last year to renew the old CTR umbrella agreement has reduced the amount of work that we can do in Russia, but this hardly seems to explain all of the cuts. Are there priorities or goals that are being deferred or scrapped because of the budget cuts? And are there other initiatives that the program could be pursuing?

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs Andrew Weber: Congressman, we are accepting some risk. These are prevention programs. And as Director Myers noted, it's when we fail to prevent something, you know, that's the ultimate metric for these programs. We perhaps could do more in the area of global nuclear security because our partners in the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration are also in a difficult budgetary climate. And I think there's some room, some potential opportunities for increased partnership with them in those.

Congressman Langevin: …I will just say that I think some of these cuts they really raise red flags with me, very concerning. Clearly, the threats have not gone away, they haven't diminished, and yet we're cutting areas and I believe that we're cutting off our nose to spite our face. And I'm concerned that we're going to regret the day that we didn't put proper investments into the programs under your responsibility.”
--House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, April 8, 2014.

Note: My colleague, Kingston Reif, is tracking this issue closely and is posting nuclear security related quotes over at Nukes of Hazard.

Nickolas Roth is a research associate at the Project on Managing the Atom at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.