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More Money for Nuclear
Thursday, May 2, 2002
After Sept. 11, President Bush vowed that fighting the war
against terrorism would become the main focus of his presidency. But
the administration is apparently giving short shrift to the security
needs of the nation's nuclear arms and nuclear-waste stockpiles.
In March, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham wrote a letter to the
Office of Management and Budget requesting a total of $379.8 million
to better protect nuclear weapons and radioactive-waste stockpiles.
"Failure to support these urgent security requirements is a risk
that would be unwise," Abraham warned in the letter, which was
recently obtained by The New York Times. "We are storing vast
amounts of materials that remain highly volatile and subject to
unthinkable consequences if placed in the wrong hands."
Of Abraham's total laundry list, the OMB has approved just $26.4
million for congressional consideration, including $7 million for a
security assessment, and $20 million to better respond to incidents
involving nuclear weapons.
Asked about the administration's failure to better fund Abraham's
security requests, an Energy Department spokeswoman told The Times
"our nuclear weapons complex is among the most secure facilities in
the world." Perhaps someone should have told that to Abraham before
he wrote to OMB warning of the department's vulnerabilities.
Since Sept. 11, the Bush administration has been nearly fanatical
in its insistence on official secrecy, and it's a good bet that
Abraham's letter would have never seen the light of day if it hadn't
been leaked to the media by, The Times reports, "someone who favors
more spending on nuclear security."
But given the decision to ignore most of the department's
security-related requests, one wonders whether the Bush
administration's mania for secrecy, at least in this case, is
intended to protect national security, or simply to provide
political damage control.
"Should we give Enron executives the $250 million tax break
President Bush proposed, or should we use that money to secure our
country against a nuclear attack using our own nuclear materials?"
asks David J. Sirota, spokesman for the Democratic minority staff of
the House Appropriations Committee. Under the circumstances, that's
not a bad question.
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