- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

The world was made safer last week — by about six kilograms of highly enriched uranium. That was the amount of nuclear material that was secretly spirited away from the Czech Republic and taken into a secure site in Russia as part of a U.S.-Czech-Russian and International Atomic Energy Agency mission. The successful mission puts into focus not only the Bush administration’s global nuclear nonproliferation achievements, but also the Kerry campaign’s false claims on the issue.

Sen. John Kerry made a play at an emotive issue during the campaign, when he claimed the Bush administration was in effect moving at a snail’s pace to secure nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. “At the current pace, it will take 13 years to secure potential bomb material in the former Soviet Union. We cannot wait that long,” he said in a June 1 speech in Florida. Mr. Kerry was so intent on raising an alarm that he failed to accurately describe the progress made. For starters, the analysis Mr. Kerry depended on did not look at the transfers made in 2004, as Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham noted Tuesday in a meeting with The Washington Times Editorial Board. Also, the analysis failed to consider the work stoppage caused by September 11, and rather than look at the number of sites that had been secured, the analysis looked instead only at metric tons of nuclear material.

U.S. nonproliferation strategy, even preceding the Bush administration, has striven to secure the most vulnerable sites first. Those sites often have smaller amounts of material on a metric-ton basis. The two remaining sites that have yet to be secured in Russia have a high volume of material that can be secured quickly, but first access to them must be granted by Russian officials — a substantial problem, about which not much has been publicly said. The work Mr. Kerry referred to is expected to be finished by 2008.

The Bush administration has made notable strides in global nuclear nonproliferation. Under Mr. Abraham, the administration has made the first successful shipments of nuclear material from civilian research reactors into secure sites in Russia, as part of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative that more than 100 countries participate in. In addition to the recent shipment from the Czech Republic, a total of 51 kilograms of highly enriched uranium has been repatriated to Russia from Romania, Bulgaria, Libya and Uzbekistan. In August 2002, 48 kg of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium were repatriated from a research reactor near Belgrade, Serbia.

Mr. Abraham has expanded the funding and nature of U.S. global nonproliferation efforts, to now include efforts to secure nuclear material that isn’t weapons grade, but could still be used in a dirty bomb attack. Also, funding has been ramped up. While U.S. spending to secure nuclear material had hovered around $1 billion, that amount has been raised to about $1.4 billion, said Mr. Abraham.

There is still much work to be done to secure material around the world that could potentially be used by terrorists. Despite the claims of Mr. Kerry, though, steady progress is being made.

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