Effective Approaches for U.S. Participation in a More Secure Global Nuclear Market

Ellen Tauscher
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
Remarks to Bipartisan Policy Center's (BPC) Nuclear Initiative Conference at the Columbus Club at Union Station
Washington, DC
October 3, 2011

As prepared

Good afternoon. Thank you for organizing this workshop and giving me the opportunity to speak here today. I am honored to share the podium with such distinguished panelists, good friends, and patriots. I give many speeches about how the Administration is working toward the President’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

In Prague, the President was very clear. He did not call for a nuclear-free world; but a nuclear-weapons-free world. The President strongly supports promoting safe nuclear energy. He also feels strongly that it cannot be done by denying rights to other states.

I want to speak with you today about how the United States government is working to ensure that nuclear energy is done safely without increasing global proliferation threats.

We all know that safety must be integral at every step in the design, construction, and operation of nuclear facilities. Three Mile Island and Chornobyl taught us this difficult lesson. Nuclear accidents know no borders, and no one is immune.

The March 11 triple disaster in Japan – where an earthquake led to a massive tsunami that in turn created a nuclear crisis – serves as a tragic reminder of the challenges we all face.

As the Government of Japan engages in large-scale decontamination measures to eliminate the radioactive materials present in the environment, residents of the area around the power station in Fukushima continue to face an unclear future and struggle with worries about radiation they cannot see, smell, or taste.

Lessons learned from Fukushima are still incomplete, and the situation there continues to evolve and improve as Japanese authorities continue working to bring the Fukushima power reactors to a cold shutdown.

In a message to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference last month, President Obama said,

“The tragic events at Fukushima make clear that nuclear energy, which holds great promise for global development and as a carbon-free source of power, also brings significant challenges to our collective safety and security. Going forward, we must rededicate ourselves to the principle that when pursuing nuclear energy, safety and security must be our highest priority.”

In this spirit, President Obama ordered a comprehensive safety review of all 104 active nuclear power plants in the United States. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already completed its near-term inspections and made recommendations for improving our regulatory framework and safety procedures.

At the international level, the Administration is urging all nuclear countries to update their nuclear power plant safety assessments, to be prepared for scenarios that include multiple severe hazards, and to give particular attention to the IAEA safety standards.

These standards are invaluable to the success of every country’s nuclear energy program.

The United States supported the Action Plan on Nuclear Safety that was approved by the IAEA Board of Governors and endorsed by the IAEA General Conference.

The action plan outlines steps to strengthen and expand the IAEA’s peer review programs, improve emergency response training, enhance transparency and cooperation, and strengthen nuclear safety infrastructures around the world.

The United States is urging all nations with nuclear power reactors to adhere to the Nuclear Safety Convention, which remains our best instrument for promoting stronger safety standards worldwide.

Only one such country – Iran – has failed to do so.

We believe states should work to ratify and implement this and other international safety conventions, such as the Convention on Assistance in Case of a Nuclear Accident or a Radiological Emergency and the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident.

The events of Fukushima emphasize the need for a global nuclear liability regime to ensure that accident victims are compensated and to support a stable legal environment for nuclear energy’s expansion. We believe the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC) fits this need, and the United States is encouraging all states to adopt the Convention.

As we examine a path forward for nuclear energy, the Fukushima accident reminds us that nuclear safety and security require continued vigilance.

As we all know, the world is increasingly turning to nuclear energy as an important part of our energy mix as we confront a changing climate, tackle increasing energy demands, and seek energy security. Already, there are over 60 new reactors under construction in more than a dozen countries around the world.

President Obama has stated that “we must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change and to advance peace and opportunity for all people.”

The United States has long been the largest supporter of IAEA efforts to promote access to peaceful applications of nuclear energy, which we view as a key element of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Underscoring this long-standing support, last year at the Review Conference for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Secretary Clinton announced President Obama’s Peaceful Uses Initiative. The initiative seeks to expand international support for the IAEA’s work in this area by $100 million over five years. As pledged by Secretary Clinton, the United States will be contributing $50 million to this initiative, and we are working with partners to match that pledge.

In addition to supporting nuclear applications in food, water, and health, this support will help enable states considering nuclear power to build the national infrastructure needed to meet the highest standards of safety, security, and nonproliferation, as well as to help developing countries use nuclear techniques in cancer therapy, water resource management, and agriculture.

The United States also is leading international community efforts to develop assurances of reliable fuel supply, beginning with fuel banks.

The United States led the successful effort to establish an enriched uranium reserve administered by the IAEA, and contributed $50 million for the purchase of LEU.

We are pleased that IAEA member states also have approved two other fuel assurance mechanisms: the nuclear fuel reserve in Angarsk, Russia; and the Model Nuclear Fuel Assurances Agreement approved earlier this year.

And the United States has established a reserve of enriched uranium derived from down-blended highly-enriched uranium no longer needed for military purposes, as a back-up fuel supply for foreign or domestic reactors in event of a supply disruption.

Taken together, these diverse mechanisms have been established to provide confidence that if a country in good standing with its nonproliferation obligations encounters a supply problem, it will be able to turn to one or more of these reserves for enriched uranium.

The United States has active bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements, or 123 agreements, covering nuclear exports to about 50 countries worldwide as well as Taiwan and the IAEA. These 123 agreements serve two significant objectives. They allow U.S. industry to export reactors, fuel, and significant reactor components. They also give the United States significant consent rights to effectively control any future re-transfer, enrichment, or reprocessing of U.S.-obligated nuclear material.

As we proceed with consideration of nuclear cooperation with other potential partners, the United States will continue to seek to limit the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies through whatever mechanism is most appropriate and has the greatest chance of success.

The United States government has increased its coordination efforts to enhance the U.S. nuclear industry’s ability to compete in emerging nuclear markets.

The Department of Commerce has established several working groups to allow government and industry officials to communicate more regularly and effectively, thereby putting U.S. industry on a more level playing field with its international competitors.

We were very pleased to recently learn of a nuclear industry initiative to establish a common set of Principles of Conduct. These Principles now represent a set of global standards for all nuclear suppliers on matters of the highest importance to the United States government, that of nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation.

As countries look to expand their nuclear energy production, it is essential that the promotion of safe nuclear energy goes hand in hand with strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the broader nuclear nonproliferation regime.

In his message to the IAEA General Conference, President Obama said:

“We must aim for a future in which peaceful nuclear energy is not only safe, but also accessible by all nations that abide by their obligations. We must safeguard against any possible diversion or misuse of nuclear energy, whether by nations or terrorists, and ensure nations that violate their obligations face consequences. For those that play by the rules, we are committed to building new frameworks for cooperation ...”

In carrying out this vision, the Administration continues to work with countries to support the principles contained in Nuclear Supplier Group Guidelines and ensure that civil enrichment and reprocessing technologies do not contribute to weapons proliferation.

The national and multinational reserves I have mentioned play a key role in encouraging states with nuclear energy to rely on international markets for nuclear fuel services rather than indigenous sensitive fuel cycle facilities.

We strongly support the efforts of Deputy Secretary of Energy and my good friend Dan Poneman to further develop reliable fuel services to safely, economically, and reliably meet the needs of nations seeking the benefits of nuclear energy.

Another key initiative in strengthening the nonproliferation regime is getting all countries to adopt the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which gives the IAEA additional authorities to those found in comprehensive safeguards agreements. Nearly 135 states, including the United States, have either signed or signed and brought into force Additional Protocols.

The Additional Protocol is becoming the international verification standard.

We are engaging with those states that have not yet brought their Additional Protocol into force and encouraging them to do so, as called for by the 2010 NPT Review Conference. 

Our success in implementing the agenda President Obama laid out in Prague, including bringing into force the New START Treaty to further reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads, the Summit in Washington devoted to nuclear security, and the consensus reached at the NPT Review Conference, all have served to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Significant challenges remain. North Korea, Iran, and Syria continue to undermine the global nonproliferation regime.

North Korea’s uranium enrichment program is a clear violation of its international commitments and UN Security Council Resolutions.

Iran continues to defy its obligations under relevant UN Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions to suspend its proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities and cooperate with the IAEA in its investigation into Iran’s nuclear program. We do not dispute Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program, but with that right come responsibilities.

Iran has a responsibility to address the international community’s urgent concerns and restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities. We will continue to consult and work closely with our P5+1 partners and proceed with full implementation of national and multinational sanctions until Iran engages in a constructive way and fulfills its international obligations.

Syria is also being held accountable for non-compliance with IAEA safeguards. In June, the IAEA ratcheted up scrutiny of Syria’s nuclear activities by reporting that non-compliance to the UN Security Council.

Despite these challenges, the Obama Administration is committed to nuclear power as a component of our secure energy future and we recognize that nuclear power is a vital contributor to the world’s growing energy needs. We support a strengthened role for the IAEA to help countries maintain appropriate nuclear safeguards, safety, and security while also verifying that civilian nuclear programs are entirely peaceful.

We will continue to do everything possible to ensure nuclear energy is produced safely and responsibly, and remain vigilant to prevent accidents or acts of terrorism.

We know we cannot do it alone.

Only through international cooperation can we achieve the goals President Obama set forth in Prague.

Together with our international partners, we can support expansion of safe nuclear energy and the rights of countries that abide by their nonproliferation obligations, while simultaneously discouraging the proliferation and misuse of sensitive technologies.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with all of you today. I am happy to answer a few questions.