Local View: Fortenberry a leader in nuclear nonproliferation

By Paul Olson
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Lincoln Journal Star

Nebraskans for Peace is not known for subscribing to Republican positions; we are a non-partisan, educational organization.

However, we do applaud good work without examining party affiliation. Last week, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry led one of the few bipartisan efforts in this year’s Congress that may lead us toward a more peaceful world, and most Nebraskans probably did not notice it.

While folks in the First District may be familiar with Fortenberry’s positions on the farm bill, Grover Norquist’s tax pledge or CENTCOM, we have not attended to his positions on nuclear programs based in other states.

Beyond Nebraska’s borders, billions of dollars are spent on nuclear nonproliferation every year, and Nebraska’s congressional delegation has a lot to say about how it’s spent. Sen. Ben Nelson’s positions on the Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees mean he’s involved in budgeting for nuclear weapons, but recently Fortenberry also has shown an interest in nuclear security.

During deliberations over the House energy and water appropriations bill for 2013, Fortenberry sponsored an amendment to move $17 million from the Mixed Oxide Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Program to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). The amendment passed in a landslide with support from both Republicans and Democrats. This is the second time in two years that Fortenberry has led a bipartisan effort to protect the GTRI, our first line of defense against nuclear terrorism.

Both MOX and GTRI are considered nonproliferation programs, but they do very different things and have different records of effectively spending tax dollars.

MOX is a scheme to blend plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons with depleted uranium and put the mix into fuel for commercial utilities. Over the past decade, more than $3 billion has been spent on a MOX program that lacks a clear direction, consistently goes over budget and is set to make a product that no utilities have committed to use. If the program continues unchecked, it could pull as much as $20 billion into its orbit.

The Fortenberry-sponsored cut to the MOX program follows an earlier $152 million cut written into the original bill. In addition to the funding reduction, the nuclear spending bill directs new congressional oversight in the form of a Government Accountability Office report. This report will clarify exactly how much the MOX program should cost from start to finish and how long the program might take to complete its mission. All of these congressional actions signal a new congressional interest in transparency and oversight for the MOX program.

Speaking from the House floor, Fortenberry said, “We should be proud of our work as a country in our nuclear security efforts, but it is abundantly clear that the mixed oxide fuel program is not the most productive use of our constituents' taxpayer dollars.”

In contrast to MOX, GTRI is among the most productive federal programs ever undertaken. Since 2004, GTRI has removed all highly enriched uranium and plutonium from 21 countries -- enough to build 775 nuclear bombs and thousands of dirty bombs. GTRI and similar nonproliferation programs have prevented terrorists from obtaining nuclear material and play a critical role in our broader national security strategy.

In addition to GTRI’s effectiveness, it is an extremely efficient program. Nebraskans have been calling for more sensible nuclear policies for decades, advocating a nuclear weapons freeze and opposing nuclear weapons in space. After all of this effort, it is heartening to see our members of Congress leading the way with responsible plans to reorient nuclear spending

Fortenberry’s work is of a piece with these efforts and should be applauded by all Nebraskans. Nebraskans should be proud of the leadership Congress is displaying in the area of nuclear nonproliferation and of the fact that all of the Nebraska delegation has followed Fortenberry’s lead, ensuring that our taxes are spent on only the most effective programs.

Paul A. Olson is co-chairman of the Anti-War Committee of Nebraskans for Peace.

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