Nuclear Responsibility

The Department of Energy needs more money to defend America's nuclear facilities

After Sept. 11, nothing is safe from the terrorist menace—least of all America’s nuclear storage facilities.

Yet the Bush administration has not yet drawn up a plan to protect these facilities in the long term, nor has it allocated enough money to safeguard them in the short run.

The Office of Management and Budget recently appropriated a mere $26.4 million to the Energy Department for the defense of nuclear waste storage areas and nuclear weapons facilites combined. This is only 7 percent of the $379.7 million that the Energy Department originally requested.

Ensuring the security of America’s nuclear facilities is far more essential to national security than developing a missile defense shield or deploying a new Joint Strike Fighter. Not only is a missile strike from a rogue state or an attack from a foreign military highly unlikely, but the devastation caused by an attack on a nuclear facility—or, even worse, if terrorists were able to steal fissile material—could dwarf the effect of any conventional bomb. Yet a completed missile defense project may cost hundreds of billions before its completion, and the Department of Defense will spend over $7.8 billion just this year. Though securing nuclear facilities requires only a fraction of this money, it has still not been fully funded.

The administration says that it is developing a new plan to defend America’s nuclear storage facilities, and that it does not want to throw money away in the meantime. But this plan has been in the making since last September, and there are no signs that it will be completed any time soon. Although the administration should be actively trying to speed up the completion and implementation of its new plan, bureaucratic inertia and inter-departmental bickering should not jeopardize America’s security. Before it is finalized, the Energy Department must be given the money it needs to protect nuclear material.

Homeland security should be one of President Bush’s top priorities, and this cannot be done without safeguarding America’s nuclear stores immediately.