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Global Security Newswire

Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues

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Senators: Spending Bill Would Boost Efforts to Secure Nuclear Material

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks on Capitol Hill on June 4. On Tuesday, Feinstein's Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee approved a fiscal 2015 spending bill. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks on Capitol Hill on June 4. On Tuesday, Feinstein's Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee approved a fiscal 2015 spending bill. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Senate appropriators said Tuesday that their spending bill for fiscal 2015 includes several measures meant to aid efforts to shield nuclear and radiological materials from terrorists.

The bill, which the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water approved unanimously, includes a provision that would require the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission "to establish minimum security standards for radiological sources at medical and industrial facilities," according to a summary of the legislation.

The document notes that "recent investigations found that these sources are vulnerable to theft, and current regulations are not sufficient to protect the public against radiological terrorism."

NRC officials said in 2012 that they had issued new rules meant to address any shortcomings, but a senior investigator at the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office told Global Security Newswire at the time that the regulations would not do enough.

While full details of the Senate bill are not expected to be available until later this week, the legislation recommends $1.9 billion -- $24 million above the fiscal year 2014 level and $423 million above the budget request -- "for nonproliferation activities that reduce the threat of terrorism."

The funds, which would go to the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, "will accelerate efforts to secure and permanently eliminate remaining stockpiles of dangerous nuclear and radiological materials around the world," according to the announcement.

Part of this funding increase would go toward controversial efforts to convert Cold-War era weapons material into reactor fuel -- an effort that has been criticized by many nonproliferation advocates. The Obama administration is looking to put an unfinished plant dedicated to the conversion on "cold standby" while it pursues other, possibly cheaper, ways to dispose of the material.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said during Tuesday's markup session that the bill would "restore funding to get out of cold standby." He said the legislation would "allow the program to go forward, and we'll have some time to figure out how to make it cost effective."

Last week, House appropriators approved a bill that would provide $350 million to continue the MOX program.

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