Friday, 17 May 96 Washington, DC
1. HELIUM: JOHNSTON AMENDMENT WOULD PROTECT OUR NATIONAL RESERVE.
The Helium Privatization Act of 1996 (H.R. 3008), which floated through the House by 411-10 (WN 3 May 96), will be marked up by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee next Wednesday. While no one seems seriously opposed to the government getting out of the helium business, H.R. 3008 also calls for selling off the nation's helium reserve. However, heeding the call of the American Physical Society to conserve and enhance the reserves (WN 8 Dec 95), Bennett Johnston (D-LA) will offer an amendment barring the sale of the reserve until the Interior Secretary, in consultation with the National Academy of Sciences, determines the sale would not adversely affect U.S. science and technology. Most Senators are unaware of the finite supply of helium and its vital role in science. It would be a good idea to inform them.
2. EISENHOWER'S "ATOMS FOR PEACE" RETURN TO THE U.S.--PEACEFULLY.
Forty years ago, the US exported enriched uranium to allies for use as fuel rods in research reactors. In exchange, recipients agreed not to develop nuclear weapons. On Monday, the US agreed to accept 675 spent fuel rods back from 34 nations for storage and eventual reprocessing. The decision was part of the Clinton administration's efforts to reduce trade in bomb materials. Some environmental groups objected, but the Natural Resources Defense Council praised the decision, noting that the risk is negligible. It adds less than 1% to the spent fuel already managed by DOE.
3. BUDGET: HOUSE APPROVES THE KASICH PLAN -- RERUN OF LAST YEAR?
To no one's surprise the six-year plan (WN 10 May 96) passed with ease, while the President's plan received what John Kasich (R-OH) called "a pathetic show of support." Even the "blue-dog" plan, proposed by conservative democrats who think tax cuts are crazy if the goal is a balanced budget, did better than the President's request. According to a AAAS analysis of the Kasich plan: total non-defense R&D at DOE will be cut 50% by 2002, mostly in energy conservation, with physics losing 13%; NASA space science, down 20%; NSF research, down 5%. The House plan must be reconciled with the Senate's, but President Clinton won't sign it anyway.
4. MISSILE THREAT: "SECRET" INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE DISCOUNTS RISK.
Even as Congress debates the Defend America Act (WN 10 May 96), a November 1995 CIA Estimate of Emerging Missile Threats, reprinted by the Washington Times, concludes that the U.S. faces no threat from ballistic missiles for the next 15 years. Moreover, we could detect any long-range ballistic missile program many years before deployment. National Missile Defense proponents cite the report as proof that intelligence agencies are politicized. In any case, NMD might be cheaper than the intelligence that tells us we don't need it; the National Reconnaissance Office admits it found $2B it didn't know it had. Perhaps it was under the couch cushions.