05.20.08

Homeland Security Committee Approves Schiff's Legislation to "Fingerprint" Nuclear Material

Official Seal of the US House of Representatives

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 Contact: Sean Oblack (202) 225-4176

Homeland Security Committee Approves Schiff’s Legislation to “Fingerprint” Nuclear Material

Legislation will improve technology to track down nuclear traffickers and identify sources of nuclear material

Washington, DC – Recognizing that one of the greatest threats to our security today is the detonation of a nuclear weapon or the use of a radiological device, the House Homeland Security Committee today passed Rep. Adam Schiff’s legislation to strengthen efforts in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop techniques for “fingerprinting” nuclear material.  The Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act (H.R. 2631) will also encourage the President to negotiate international agreements to govern international nuclear forensics activities.

“If we can determine the source of the nuclear material, we can better attack smuggling networks and plug the security holes that allow deadly material to be obtained in the first place,” said Schiff.  “Moreover, nuclear states like North Korea may be deterred from transferring nuclear material if they know it can be traced back to them. The asymmetrical threat to end all asymmetrical threats is terrorist use of a nuclear device. All our efforts must be directed to making sure this never happens.  This bill gives us another important tool.”

In the event of nuclear material being intercepted at a border crossing or in a sting operation, there may be few clues to assist investigators in determining where the bomb or material originated. The radioactive material itself may be the only lead.  Each sample of nuclear material has an elemental fingerprint that can help determine its source. However, current efforts to trace materials are often incomplete because the technology is still in development and information on foreign reactors and stockpiles is not available. 

The Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act will authorize the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center at DHS to coordinate the government’s nuclear forensics efforts and encourage technicians and scientists to enter the field. It will also call upon the President to lead international efforts to share nuclear forensics data.

Congressman Schiff has been a leading voice in Congress on securing vulnerable stockpiles of weapons materials. Earlier this month, Rep. Schiff co-founded the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Nuclear Security, which seeks to identify the most urgent vulnerabilities and take immediate action to improve nuclear safeguards, secure fissile materials, and prevent the misuse of sensitive nuclear materials and technologies. 

In the past year, Congressman Schiff introduced several bipartisan bills which would reduce the threat of a nuclear disaster.  In addition to the nuclear forensics bill, he introduced legislation that would prevent nations that violate and then withdraw from the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) from keeping nuclear materials or technology obtained through the treaty.  He also introduced a bill called the Ending Nuclear Trafficking Act, which seeks to bolster efforts to deter and prevent nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists by making nuclear trafficking a crime against humanity.

In the 109th Congress, he introduced legislation to expand the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and establish an Office of Nonproliferation Programs in the Executive Office of the President.  In April 2004, Rep. Schiff introduced H.R. 4212 which would have created a Presidential Task Force within the Department of Energy to focus on an immediate strategy to secure nuclear material around the world.  He also introduced legislation (H.R. 2063) to expand the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program to include countries outside the former Soviet Union, such as Pakistan, India, North Korea, China, Iran and Iraq in May of 2003.  That same month, he joined Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) in offering an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to strengthen the United States' efforts to safeguard or destroy weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related materials around the world.