Subcomittee Investigates Nonproliferation Metrics for Defense, Energy

By June 14, 2012

On Tuesday, June 12, the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities investigated the determining metrics for nonproliferation programs.

The meeting, which was led by Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio, featured testimonies from Madelyn Creedon, the assistant secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, Anne Harrington, the deputy administrator for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation with the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy, and Kenneth Myers, the director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and of the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The Departments of Defense and Energy propose to spend $3 billion in funding nonproliferation programs in the 2013 fiscal year. While the many of the programs are already well-established in Russia, they have begun transitioning to Southeast Asia and Africa.

Creedon spoke on DOD’s transitioning focus, not just geographically from Russia to Southeast Asia and Africa but also from nuclear programs to biological weapons programs. “We are gradually shifting to more of a biological threat reduction program that then allows us to place less emphasis on nuclear programs,” Creedon said.

The defense department still seeks an extension of the Cooperative Threat Reduction umbrella agreement with Russia that will enable them to continue working to secure nuclear materials, albeit less intensely than in the past. This is mostly because Russian crews will take an increasing role in the program. Creedon noted that while talks of the extension are still preliminary, she expects them to be successful.

When questioned on how the CTR programs could be accurately measured for success and failure, Creedon explained that where nuclear metrics of success are relatively straightforward, determining the best biological metrics has proven more difficult, however the establishment of those metrics is nearly finalized.

The DOD hopes to ensure that countries, especially those with naturally-occurring and potentially-weaponized diseases, have sufficient forensic and surveillance capabilities to differentiate between manmade and naturally occurring outbreaks.

Harrington explained that the proposed $170 million cut to the Second Line of Defense program (from $262 million to $92 million) was mostly due to the fact that the majority of nuclear detection ports have already been installed and only need maintenance.

One of the DOE’s programs of particular concern was the Mixed Oxide Fuel program, which had hoped to turn 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel that could be sold to reactors globally. While initial projections had the program beginning operations in 2014 at the cost of $3.6 billion, the program was pushed back to 2017 and has cost more than $6 billion since 1999. Another concern for the MOX program involves a lack of perceived customers willing to purchase the fuel.

Portman questioned Harrington on the requested budget increase to $2.46 billion for the DNN program, an increase of approximately $160 million, given the Government Accountability Office critique that the DNN and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative were not meeting their goals. Harrington explained that “the timing of that [planning] process does need to be flexible enough to reflect the realities of international diplomacy.”

“The bottom line metric, particularly for GTRI is: Are we removing the material?” Harrington said. Harrington continued that approximately 4600 kg plutonium and highly enriched uranium have been removed from the originally targeted countries.

Hagan expressed concern over the congregation of agencies under Myers, given his involvement with the Standing Joint Forces Headquarters for Elimination, saying “It seems to me that you are wearing three hats now instead of two.” However, Myers explained that all three organizations, DTRA, SCC-WMD and SJFHE, which is headed by Major General Crabtree of the United States Air Force, all dovetail neatly and their coordination helps present a united front for U.S. nonproliferation efforts and WMD threat reduction.

DTRA serves to respond to developing WMD threats in a combat or domestic scenarios and also to provide research and development of protective equipment and other technologies to combat WMD. The SCC-WMD is mainly tasked with synchronizing the United States response to WMD and advocating funding for counter-WMD programs. The SJFHE looks to reduce and secure WMD in hostile environments.

Though Portman asked each witness to explain any contingency plans due to the threat of sequestration and the proposed across-the-board $500 billion cut, none of the witnesses’ departments had been yet directed to make plans, though Myers did explain how damaging it would be to the United States’ ability to meet its international obligations.

When Portman turned the conversation toward Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile, Creedon explained that the weapons are believed to be secure for the moment and that DOD has made contingency plans, but she offered no details, while Myer declined to comment in the public session.

Categories: Energy, Events, Nuclear Information, Uncategorized