Over the last couple of years, Rachel Maddow has been covering one of my nominees for Most Underappreciated Story in the World. It has to do with the National Nuclear Security Administration, which gets very little attention, but which is generally tasked with — what’s the phrase I’m looking for — saving the world.

Here’s the latest segment from last night’s show:

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For those who can’t watch videos online, Rachel highlighted developments in Moldova over the summer, where U.S.-trained local police uncovered a ring of criminals trying to sell 20 pounds of highly enriched uranium and some unknown quantity of plutonium — enough to make a nuclear bomb — left over from the USSR days.

The United States government takes this kind of thing extremely seriously, officials have tracked the uranium to its source, and the criminal ring is being shut down.

Rachel’s segment also featured footage of National Nuclear Safety Administration officials, working in secret for the last seven weeks, to secure and dispose of more than 72 pounds of weapons-grade uranium from Kazakhstan.

“This is what the NNSA does every single day. This is what your government is doing,” Rachel said. “In the last year and a half alone, the NNSA has down-blended more than 55,000 kilograms of nuclear material — enough to build over 2,000 nuclear weapons. They are the ones keeping this material off the nuclear black market, for the world and for America. They are the ones keep this stuff out of the hands of terrorists who are actively trying to get it and have millions of dollars to spend to do it. That is the way it is supposed to work.

“Next time you hear somebody talking smack about the government, about the whole idea of government doing something useful, you have your rejoinder. These are your tax dollars at work, thank God.”

Congressional Republicans, in case you’re at all curious, have tried to cut funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration. We can afford tax cuts for millionaires, but counter-proliferation programs involving the most dangerous materials on the planet will just have to get by with less.

It’s only the federal agency principally responsible for locking up loose nuclear materials around the world. Why would that be a GOP priority?

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.