House Passes Nuclear Security Bill

Benjamin Kagel

The House of Representatives on June 28 passed legislation required to bring the United States into compliance with two international treaties that improve nuclear material security and enhance measures to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Efforts to implement the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the 2005 International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism began in 2008, but stalled in Congress. President Barack Obama submitted a similar draft proposal in 2010 and again in 2011 to implement the nuclear security agreements following his commitment to complete U.S. ratification at the 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington. (See ACT, May 2010.)

The updated legislation submitted to Congress would bring U.S. law into line with provisions in the treaties. Congressional passage of the bill is the last substantive hurdle to U.S. ratification of the pacts.

The 2005 amendment extends protection requirements beyond the original agreement, which covers nuclear material while in international transport, by expanding the coverage to apply to nuclear facilities and to materials in peaceful domestic use and storage. It also would impose new legal penalties for misuse of radioactive material and sabotage of nuclear facilities. The convention on suppressing nuclear terrorism provides a definition of nuclear terrorism and specifies how states should handle offenders and illicit materials when seized.

The bill approved by the Judiciary Committee excludes controversial language involving the use of wiretaps in federal investigations and the possible application of the death penalty to individuals for a crime of nuclear terrorism. That language had delayed congressional approval of previous versions of the bill.

Ratification will not only “enhance the national security of the United States,” but also will strengthen international counterterrorism and nonproliferation policies and encourage other states to ratify the treaties, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said in a press statement following the panel’s voice vote June 6.

The bill also includes implementing legislation for two treaties dealing with maritime security. The Senate has not yet voted on its version of the bill.