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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Pays $1Bln Bill For Nuclear Safeguards

WASHINGTON -- The Republican-dominated Senate Armed Services Committee has approved more than $1 billion for next year to help Russia and other former Soviet republics destroy their strategic weapons, secure nuclear materials and pay weapons scientists to work at nonmilitary ventures.

The Senate panel, which has challenged the White House on other defense and foreign policy issues, last week approved almost all of the 50 percent increase that U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration had sought for the so-called threat reduction and nuclear cities programs, on which the United States spent $718 million this year.

"We have asked Congress for extra funding here, to help Russia keep its arsenal of nuclear weapons secure," Clinton said in a speech Wednesday at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, adding that the United States so far has "helped Russia to deactivate about 5,000 warheads."

The Senate action, on top of the House Armed Services Committee's almost full support last week for the Pentagon portion of the program, comes as good news to the administration as it prepares for next month's summit between Clinton and President Vladimir Putin.

The use of Pentagon and Energy Department funds to help dismantle Russian weapons and secure Russian nuclear materials is the only major U.S. aid program that has survived Republican anger at Moscow's policies, particularly its tactics in Chechnya and its support for Yugoslavia in the Kosovo conflict.

Under the Pentagon's eight-year-old Nunn-Lugar program, U.S. contractors are helping to dismantle SS-18 and SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles, the one-time Soviet first-strike threat against the United States.

"Sunflowers are now growing on what used to be a field of SS-19 ICBMs," Brigadier General Thomas Kuenning Jr., director of the threat reduction program, said this month in a speech at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The House panel said it supports the core purpose of the Pentagon's program, which it described as "the accelerated dismantlement of former Soviet strategic offensive arms that threaten the United States." However, the committee said it is "concerned that the poor economic situation in the former Soviet Union is shifting an increasing share of ... costs to the United States."

The panel earmarked $162.8 million - $10 million more than the U.S. president's request - for the elimination of strategic offensive arms in Russia.

Kuenning said the Russian navy was so short of funds that the United States now pays to tow Moscow's nuclear submarines into the shipyards where they are dismantled. He pointed out that it will cost $13 million to take apart a single Russian Typhoon sub, which is twice as large as a U.S. Trident missile submarine.

Twelve Russian submarines have been eliminated, and 10 more are moving toward destruction, Kuenning said.

The Pentagon also is building a $300 million complex at Mayak, near Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, where the Russians will store plutonium triggers from dismantled warheads. In the planning stage are facilities to store spent nuclear fuel from Russian subs and to do away with the fuel from Russian rockets.