SENATE TASK FORCE ON PLUTONIUM DISPOSITION (Senate - September 29, 1998)

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Mr. LOTT. Mr. President, the end of the Cold War served to greatly reduce the threat of global instability, but the world is far from being a safe place today. Challenges to continued world peace--from increased terrorist activities to display of nuclear weapon capabilities by new countries--seem to occur weekly. To date, we have not had to face the dreaded combination of terrorists with nuclear arms, but that possibility must be considered as we evaluate new terrorist threats.

Designs for crude nuclear weapons, potentially more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, are readily available today. The only hurdle for terrorists to overcome is acquisition of the plutonium or highly enriched uranium needed to build the weapon.

Senator Pete Domenici, my colleague from New Mexico, has grappled with these issues for many years. He led the Senate's efforts through the U.S./Russian Agreement on Highly Enriched Uranium to secure 500 tons of this material from Russia, enough for perhaps 20,000 bombs.

More recently, Senator Domenici has focused his attention on 50 tons of weapons-grade plutonium that Russia has declared to be surplus; that's enough material for almost 10,000 nuclear weapons. He has led efforts to ensure that this surplus plutonium won't present us with a future threat.

His trips to Russia, first last July with Senator Thompson and Senator Grams, and then more recently to the Moscow Summit, focus on this issue. Through those trips, Senator Domenici is well known to the leadership of the Russian weapon programs. His proposals for rapid progress on this surplus plutonium have been thoroughly studied throughout the world, from Japan to France.

Senator Domenici discussed his proposals with President Clinton in late July and encouraged that plutonium disposition be a focus of this past Summit. The protocol on plutonium disposition at the Moscow Summit is an important first step, but it is only the first step.

We have to go far beyond just signing the protocol to secure the benefits that it can provide--to ensure that the material is never rebuilt into weapons or found in the hands of terrorists or rogue states. Furthermore, the Senate needs to advise the Administration on the detailed agreements that will enable real progress.

Today, I'm appointing a Senate Task Force on Plutonium Disposition to provide this input from the Senate to the Administration. I'm pleased that Senator Domenici has agreed to chair this task force, to continue his leadership on this vital topic.

Also serving on the task force will be Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Senator Patty Murray of Washington. Each of these Members brings knowledge and concern that will be valuable in guiding the Senate on this issue.

As agreements are finalized, the Senate may be called upon to approve programs or provide resources; we will depend on this task force to provide information for informed debates on these subjects.

Disposition of the current 50 tons of Russian excess weapons-grade plutonium is an important national goal. We have a golden window of opportunity to rid the world of materials for thousands of nuclear weapons. We must seize this moment.

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