Defense Authorization Bill, Nuclear Lab Mandate Sent to White House

WASHINGTON – The Senate on Friday approved a defense authorization bill for fiscal 2013 that would mandate construction of a new nuclear weapons laboratory and storage facility in New Mexico but that lacks many other controversial nuclear security provisions lawmakers considered earlier this year.

The 81-14 Senate vote on the of legislation followed House approval of the latest version of the same bill on Thursday by a vote of 315-107. The bill authorizes – but does not appropriate -- $527.5 billion in base Defense Department spending, $88.5 billion for overseas operations, and $17.4 billion for defense-related nuclear programs managed by the Energy Department.

The bill now goes to the White House for the president’s signature.

Both chambers approved the measure without additional amendments to the conference committee version that resolved differences between the House and Senate defense bills.The legislation lacks many controversial provisions House Republicans had originally sought to include, such as limitations on the implementation of the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia.

In addition, the bill does not include controversial language limiting DOE oversight of its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration. Instead, a special congressional panel would study whether the governing structure of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex ought to be changed in the future.

The legislation also does not authorize funds for construction of an East Coast ballistic missile defense interceptor site, as some House Republicans had sought. Rather, it requires the Defense Department to study no fewer than three potential new sites, at least two of which must be on the East Coast.

The bill eliminates funding for the multinational Medium Extended Air Defense System, a battlefield system meant to intercept threats including tactical or medium-range ballistic missiles and aircraft.

Lawmakers did, however, mandate construction of the New Mexico facility by 2026. The Obama administration had sought to delay work on the new building, which is part of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Also included is language intended to spur domestic production of isotopes used in medical diagnostic procedures without the use of highly enriched uranium, which could be used to build a nuclear weapon if it fell into the wrong hands.

In addition, it sets the stage for additional sanctions intended to discourage Iran from pursuing a nuclear-weapon capacity, by designating Tehran’s energy, port, shipping and shipbuilding sectors as “entities of proliferation concern.”

December 21, 2012
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WASHINGTON – The Senate on Friday approved a defense authorization bill for fiscal 2013 that would mandate construction of a new nuclear weapons laboratory and storage facility in New Mexico but that lacks many other controversial nuclear security provisions lawmakers considered earlier this year.

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