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UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
June 2, 2022
Nuclear Security Bill Stalled in Senate
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Wanda Archy

Legislation that aims to help prevent nuclear terrorism and improve nuclear security is stalled in the Senate after the introduction of an amendment proposed by Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

Grassley’s amendment would allow the death penalty for an act of nuclear terrorism that resulted in death and would give wiretapping authority to federal officials in the case of nuclear incidents. Similar provisions appeared in earlier versions of the legislation drafted by the Obama administration, but were not contained in the bill passed by the House of Representatives in June. (See ACT, July/August 2012.) House Judiciary Committee members had negotiated with the administration to remove the measures prior to introducing their own draft of the bill.

The bill would bring the United States into compliance with the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. 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 anti-terrorism agreement provides a definition of nuclear terrorism and specifies how states should handle offenders and illicit materials when seized.

In an Oct. 17 statement e-mailed to Arms Control Today, Grassley said his amendment corrects a drafting error “and adds important provisions to aid national security.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the amendment reintroduced provisions “that had been discarded by the House as unnecessary and which will derail the bipartisan agreement that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith [R-Tex.] took months to negotiate.” In an Oct. 22 statement e-mailed to Arms Control Today, Leahy said he hoped that Senate Republicans would drop their “needless demands.”

In his e-mail, Grassley said that “[t]he bill and my amendment cleared the Republican side of the Senate before the Senate went into recess, and are now stalled on the Democratic side.” Both senators emphasized the need for Congress to pass the bill.

If the legislation is not approved before the end of the current Congress, it will need to be reintroduced. The bill also includes implementing legislation for two treaties dealing with maritime security.