Schiff Amendments to Increase Nuclear Security Pass House

Official Seal of the US House of Representatives

Thursday, May 22, 2008 Contact: Sean Oblack (202) 225-4176

Schiff Amendments to Increase Nuclear Security Pass House

Washington, D.C. – Continuing his effort to increase nuclear security around the world, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) offered two amendments to the Defense Authorization bill today, and were both passed by the House.  The first amendment, authored by Rep. Schiff, would require the Secretary of Defense to study methods to reduce the likelihood of an accidental nuclear launch by nuclear nations around the world.  The second amendment, authored by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Rep. Schiff, would help strengthen the Department of Energy’s nuclear forensics capabilities.

“Nuclear terrorism is a threat so serious in its consequences that we often shrink from contemplating it,” Schiff said.   “But ignoring the problem will not make it go away – in fact, ignoring the possibility of terrorists getting hold of nuclear material or a device makes that awful prospect more likely to happen.  These amendments confront the problem head-on, by reducing the likelihood of an accidental launch and by improving our ability to identify the source of nuclear material that has been trafficked or used.”

In the two decades since the end of the Cold War the physical procedures required to launch nuclear weapons have remained unchanged.  Both the U.S. and Russia still maintain thousands of nuclear weapons that can be launched at a moment's notice. Though the risk of a deliberate nuclear war with Russia has been dramatically reduced, the danger of an accidental launch has only increased.

Rep. Schiff’s first amendment would call for a study of the technical methods by which Russian, Chinese, and American weapons could be made safer in a multilaterally framework. This amendment does not support a unilateral change in our launch procedures, but calls for a study on whether the technology exists to verify and enforce a possible future multilateral agreement on removing nuclear weapons from high alert.

The second amendment, cosponsored by Rep. Schiff, addresses the problem of nuclear trafficking. Illicit nuclear material has been intercepted in transit many times since the end of the Cold War, and the material caught is probably a small fraction of the total trafficked.  The amendment passed today would help develop nuclear forensics technology, which involves studying the mix of isotopes and other features of nuclear material that gives it a particular "fingerprint." If nations around the world knew that they could be identified as the source of material being trafficked or used in a nuclear attack, even irresponsible nations would be disinclined to proliferate.

On Tuesday, the House Homeland Security Committee passed a similar bill authored by Rep. Schiff which is aimed at strengthening efforts in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop techniques for “fingerprinting” nuclear material.

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.