WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The White House plan to remove nearly 4,000 nuclear weapons from missiles, planes and submarines but keep them in reserve for possible future use will increase the chances that radioactive material could fall into the hands of terrorists, according to Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"It seems to me we are actually increasing the threat of proliferation," Levin said Tuesday, expressing concerns about what could happen to Russian nuclear material if it makes similar cuts.
The Pentagon last week released some details of the plan which is part of the classified Nuclear Posture Review. It calls for removing approximately 3,800 nuclear warheads from existing weapons over the next decade. An undisclosed percentage of them would be kept in "ready reserve" if they are needed again. Some would be destroyed, the Pentagon said.
The U.S. strategic reductions would not be binding, as they are not written into law or treaty. But the White House expects Russia would follow suit and pare its nuclear force. For largely its own financial reasons, Russian President Vladimir Putin has advocated cutting both arsenals to approximately 1,500 warheads.
But Levin says that if the United States does not destroy its excess warheads, Russia is unlikely to destroy its own -- meaning more nuclear material will have to be stored in Russian warehouses -- and the United States already has real security concerns about existing stored material.
A report last year by former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker and former White House counsel Lloyd Cutler asserted that tons of Russian nuclear-weapons material are unaccounted for and scattered throughout the country in more than 100 poorly guarded depots, and they are susceptible to theft, unauthorized sales and could be smuggled out of Russia into terrorist hands.
The report said the situation is so dangerous that it is "entirely possible" one or more terrorist groups already have enough weapons-grade materials to create nuclear bombs.
The panel recommended the United States give Russia about $3 billion a year for 10 years to secure the material.
Russia still possesses approximately 22,000 deployed and "hedge" nuclear weapons, more than 1,000 metric tons of highly enriched uranium, and at least 150 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Council for a Livable World. The stockpiles of fissile materials represent the equivalent of more than 80,000 potential nuclear weapons, according to CLW.
"By maintaining them instead of dismantling them, what we are doing is taking the risk of real proliferation to Russia," Levin said.
Levin said the Senate Armed Services Committee would hold hearings in an attempt to change the administration's plan and allow for the destruction of the weapons.
"We're trying to see if we can't prod the administration into what we should be doing which is real reductions," he said. "The administration has shown an ability to change in security (policy) from a more unilateral position to a more cooperative position ... One of the lessons of Afghanistan ... surely is our security is related to the security of other countries."