1998 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile


OPENING STATEMENT OF

THE HONORABLE BILL RICHARDSON

UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF ENERGY

BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES

UNITED STATES SENATE

OCTOBER 1, 1998

 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am honored to appear before you as this nation's ninth Secretary of Energy. I welcome this opportunity to discuss the national security programs at the Department of Energy and very much appreciate the Committee's support for my nomination. 

I would like to recognize the accomplishments of the most recent Secretary of Energy, Federico Pefia, and the many fine individuals in the Department. I also would like to thank Deputy Secretary Betsy Moler for her service to the Department and for her help in my transition. 

As we look toward the 2 1 ' century, Mt. Chairman, I want the Department of Energy to be one of the finest Cabinet agencies. I want the American people to fully understand that the Department matters in their lives-that it is protecting our national security, that it is advancing the frontiers of science and technology, that it is cleaning up waste sites throughout the country, and that it is ensuring a balanced energy portfolio for our Nation. I want the American people to know the Department is working for them. 

Given my background as the United States' Permanent Representative to the United Nations, the national-. security mission of the Department of Energy is especially important to me. Protecting the United States from the dangers of nuclear, chemical, and biological proliferation; safeguarding and securing our own nuclear deterrent; and maintaining the reliability of our nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing are top priorities for me because I have witnessed firsthand the magnitude of the threats that we face- around the world. 

Specifically, I view as critically important the Department's responsibilities: 

@ to certify on an annual basis to the President and to the American people that our nuclear stockpile remains safe, secure, and reliable without underground nuclear testing; 

@ to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the need for global nuclear materials management; 

@ to fulfill our international obligations under arms control and nonproliferation treaties, and 

@ to clean up the thousands of tons of nuclear waste that are the legacy of the Cold War here in America. 

Let me briefly address each of these concerns. 

Stockpile Stewardship 

Maintaining a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing is a firm commitment the Department has made to the President and to the nation. I can think of no more serious responsibility than certifying to the President on an annual basis the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile. And if -- at any time -- this certification cannot be made, I would not hesitate to so advise the President. 

To carry out our nuclear stockpile responsibilities, the Department has formulated the Stockpile Stewardship program. Stockpile stewardship will maintain the core intellectual and technical competencies of the weapons plants and laboratories, and will develop the new capabilities required to certify the stockpile without nuclear testing. It will also maintain the ability to resume underground testing at the Nevada Test Site and reconstitute weapons production capacities, consistent with Presidential Directives and Senate conditions of ratification of the START II Treaty. Further, we will make a selection this year with regard to the preferred option for producing tritium for the stockpile. This is an important decision and I intend to make if after careful deliberation and based on the merits of the case. 

Stockpile Stewardship is vital to this Nation's participation in a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Four of the specific safeguards that the President established as a condition under which the U.S. will enter a CTBT relate to the stockpile stewardship program --conducting a science based program, maintaining modem nuclear laboratory facilities to attract and retain scientific resources, maintaining an ability to resume nuclear test activities, and annually certifying the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. 

In formulating the stockpile stewardship program, the Department has worked closely with.tl.,.-Defense Department and others in the national security arena. I saw for myselfjust two weeks ago some of the achievements of that program with regard to the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative and the National Ignition Facility when I visited Lawrence Livermore National Lab. 

Stockpile stewardship is successful now and to continue that success, to meet the technical challenges to maintain high confidence in the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing, a baseline budget of approximately $4.5 billion is required. I ask for your continued cooperation and bipartisan support of this program. 

Nonproliferation 

In the area of nonproliferation, the Department's expertise in nuclear matters has taught us valuable lessons that can be applied to halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the globe. As you know, this is an area where I have considerable experience and can personally attest to the importance of the Department's nonproliferation programs. 

The embassy bombings in Africa were a terrible tragedy. But imagine how much worse the carnage might have been if a terrorist like bin Laden had access to nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. We face no greater threat in this post-Cold War world than the spread of weapons of mass destruction into the hands of terrorists. 

The current situation in Russia highlights the need for this nation to continue its aggressive leadership role in helping to secure Russian nuclear material. Excess weapons-usable material-particularly highly enriched uranium and plutonium--must be secured, and rendered unusable for future weapons purposes. The threat posed by the prospect of "loose" nuclear material is one of the most critical and time-urgent national security threats of our day. I have made our continued progress in responding to this threat one of my highest priorities, and I am pleased to report that we have already made some exciting progress in this area in just the last month. 

Most of you are already familiar with the very good progress we have made in our program to help secure Russian and NIS nuclear materials. In just a few short years, the Department has succeeded in building a cooperative program for physical protection and accounting of weapons-usable material with our counterparts at over 53 nuclear facilities throughout the former Soviet complex. Although we have made very good and rapid progress, we still have important work to finish at Russian nuclear sites over the next several years. We will need your continued support to get that work done. 

Let me highlight a few of our more recent nonproliferation accomplishments --some of the milestone achievements from just this last month that you may not be aware of. 

A few weeks ago, I joined President Clinton in for his summit with President Yeltsin in Russia. At that sumniit, our Presidents signed a Joint Statement that affirmed the intention of both sides to dispose of 50 metric tons of plutonium withdrawn from the weapons programs of both countries. Both the U.S. and Russia acknowledge the importance of disposing of these materials in order to ensure that they do. not become a proliferation risk, and can never again be used in nuclear weapons. Both sides also committed to a framework for how they would dispose of these materials, and further established a goal of negotiating --by the end of this year --a legally binding agreement for the implementation of this program. Implementing such a framework will require a significant increase in Western support for this important national security mission. 

Let me also add, that with additional funds provided at the urging of this Conu-nittee, we are continuing to develop the technologies we need in the U.S. to dispose of our excess plutonium, and we are making good progress. I plan to make a final decision on selecting the sites for this important mission by the end of the year. I want to assure you that I plan to make this decision based on the merits of the case, and only after a careful review of all of the criteria (cost, environmental, mission compatibility, etc.) Toward that end, I have already visited the two preferred sites for the plutonium mission -- Savannah River and Pantex --to help inform my decision later this year. 

We have.also made progress on another important front. Last week, in Vienna, we further advanced our national security by signing a new initiative --called the "Nuclear Cities Initiative". The Russians have resolved to shrink their weapons complex and redirect it to non-military production. Our new joint initiative will help them to achieve this goal by sharing our experience in restructuring the U.S. complex, and helping to create new high-technology jobs in the Russian civilian sector. It is a challenging time to undertake this initiative, but we have a clear national 

security interest here: first, we want to find alternative ways for the Russian nuclear weapons experts to use their expertise during these times of economic hardship so that they are not driven into employment in places like Iran and North Korea. Second, we would like to achieve greater symmetry between the production capacities of the two production complexes.

In addition to our work securing nuclear materials in Russia and the former Soviet Union, we also have valuable technical expertise through our national laboratories - the crown jewels of the American scientific establishment - that can be used to halt the spread of chemical and biological weapons. On my fourth day in office at the Department, I signed an agreement at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, designating that lab as a partner to the FBI for real-time response to the threat of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. 

It was this Committee that was so instrumental in allowing the skills of the Department of Energy complex to be applied to fighting chemical and biological as well as nuclear threats. I ask for your continued support for this mission as we work to address the chemical and biological threat with the urgency that it demands. 

International Obligations 

Turning now toward an area that is another of my particular concerns as the (former) U.N. Ambassador to the United Nations, and that is fulfilling our obligations under international treaties. 

In addition to our obligations under START II, we also have an obligation as a signatory of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to proceed with prompt ratification of the treaty, and I urge the Committee to take up the treaty at the earliest possible date. We cannot afford to lose our moral authority as we urge other nations --especially India and Pakistan --to take steps that we have not taken yet ourselves. 

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is an essential building block in our nonproliferation efforts. Next year, we expect a special conference to take place where it will be decided how to encourage more nations to sign on and bring the treaty into force. Only those nations that have already ratified the treaty will be allowed to participate. Do we want to be at the table, leading these discussions as we have historically led the world in nonproliferation initiatives? Or do we want to be excluded from those negotiations? 

Fulfilling our obligations, and ensuring that other nations fulfill their obligations, as well, under international arms control and nonproliferation treaties is a top priority for me and I ask the Committee's support for this vital cause. 

Clean-U@ 

Finally, we also have some very important obligations domestically - cleaning up the thousands of tons of nuclear waste that were generated during the Cold War. @. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I understand the significant responsibility and challenge that the Secretary of Energy has in cleaning up the former nuclear weapons sites. It is one of the toughest tasks our government faces. And we need to do it better. 

I pledged in my confirmation hearing that 1 Will personally review our clean-up needs site by site and pursue proposals to integrate clean-up activities around the country. Whether at Rocky Flats, Hanford, Fernald, Mound, Savannah River, or anywhere else in the country, we must work cooperatively to solve what is a national problem. 

It is my proposal to launch a National Clean-Up Initiative that brings the Department together with Congress, governors, state, county, and local officials, individual citizens, citizen groups, and the nation's best scientists, engineers, and independent experts, in resolving this problem. These sites must be cleaned up, and in so doing, we must ensure the health and safety of our workers and the public and continue to protect the environment. 

In conclusion, Mt. Chairman, let me say that I believe this Department has served the country well, but we can do better. Over the last few years, the Department has established an ambitious set of initiatives to privatize major functions, overhaul contracting practices, adjust to changing missions,,and accomplish the hard job of down-sizing. The result, I believe, is a Department that is working smarter and cheaper. I will look for ways to make future improvements, including reforms in the way we manage our programs. 

Let me say again, Mr. Chairman, it is an honor for me to be President Clinton's choice for this position. I believe the Department has vital national security responsibilities that are in the paramount interest of the American people. I look forward to working with you as we serve and protect the American people. Thank you.