Pax Christi USA has signed onto a letter that was delivered to the White House last Friday asking for an increase of programs for non-proliferation. The letter was circulated by the Council for a Livable World. Here is the letter:

Dear President Obama,

We write to express our serious concern about the FY 2015 budget request for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs. These cuts are difficult to understand since the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists remains high.

In your closing remarks last month at that the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, you rightly stated that despite the progress made over the past four years, “it is important for us not to relax, but rather accelerate our efforts…[and] sustain momentum.” The FY 2015 budget request is out of sync with these objectives.

We urge you to work with Congress to significantly increase funding for core nuclear security activities during the FY 2015 authorization and appropriations process.

We applaud your leadership in spearheading an accelerated international effort to enhance the security of nuclear and radiological materials. Significant progress has been made safeguarding nuclear materials and through the nuclear security summit process. Thirteen countries eliminated all the highly enriched uranium (HEU) or separated plutonium on their soil. All of the locations in non-nuclear-weapon states where there was enough high-quality HEU for the simplest type of terrorist nuclear bomb were either eliminated or had significant security improvements.

Despite these noteworthy achievements, significant work remains to be done. There are still hundreds of sites spread across 30 countries that have weapons-usable nuclear material. Over 120 research and isotope production reactors around the world still use HEU for fuel or targets. Many of these locations have very modest or insufficient security measures.

The FY 2015 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reduces funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Nuclear Materials Protection Program (IMPC) by 25% and 27%, respectively. This is the third year in a row of budget cuts to these core nonproliferation programs. The fiscal 2015 request is nearly $1 billion less for GTRI and the IMPC programs than the funding level projected by your administration three years ago. In addition, the request for the Pentagon slashes funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR) by 27%.

Reducing funding for these programs increases the amount of time it will take to secure or eliminate dangerous materials that could be used by terrorists in an improvised nuclear explosive device or a dirty bomb.

For example, the NNSA request delays the goal of converting or shutting down a total of 200 research reactors that still use HEU by an additional five years to 2035. The previous end date to secure 8,500 buildings with radioactive material has already been delayed to 2044 and now may be further postponed. The construction of fixed site radiation detectors under the second line of defense program will be reduced from 25 to 15 and work in the Middle East and Africa is not moving forward. Programs to improve the nuclear accounting, control, and security culture in Russia are reduced “to fund other NNSA priorities.” Other previously planned work in the removal of nuclear and radiological material will be “deferred to future years.”

In testimony before the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee in April, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz expressed his “disappointment” with the cuts to nonproliferation and attributed them to the tough budget environment and the decision to prioritize NNSA’s nuclear weapons programs.

We understand that the budget environment is difficult. We also understand that some major projects funded in previous years have been completed. Moreover, Moscow’s unwillingness to renew the old CTR umbrella agreement has reduced the amount of work we can do in Russia.

However, the FY 2015 budget request signals a major retreat in the effort to secure nuclear and radiological materials. Nonproliferation programs must be a top priority and their work is too important to be a bill payer for other activities.

We encourage you to work with Congress to ensure that these programs have the resources they need to secure nuclear and radiological materials as quickly as possible.

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