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2005 Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference

November 7, 2005 - 12:36pm


Remarks Prepared for Energy Secretary Sam Bodman

I am very glad to be with all of you today.  Let me just say to Rose and to everyone associated with the Carnegie Endowment that the Bush Administration values the work that you do. This is particularly so with this series of conferences dedicated to exploring the complicated issues of nonproliferation policy.

And allow me to offer the congratulations of my Department to Director General El Baradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency for the award conferred last month by the Nobel Foundation.

We should applaud the Agency's staff and all the member nations that come together through the IAEA to work in partnership to reduce the threats posed by the weapons of mass destruction . and to spread the benefits of the peaceful use of the atom to medicine, agriculture, and, of course, energy.

So let me also congratulate the Director General on the success of the most recent General Conference of the IAEA. As many of you know, the 49th General Conference took place six weeks ago, just a few short days after Hurricane Rita made landfall on the Gulf Coast.

Because of the damage to our nation's energy sector caused by that storm, I was unable to travel to Vienna for the IAEA meetings. So I hope today to touch on several of the themes I had planned to cover in my remarks at the General Conference.

The main idea I want to discuss with you this morning is that the need for peaceful nuclear power all over the globe has never been more apparent while at the same time, the proliferation threat posed by nuclear materials and technology has never been more grave.

Since the demise of the Soviet regime, we have seen two new developments which should inform our 21st century thinking on issues of atomic energy and combating the proliferation of nuclear materials.

The first is the rise of global terrorism. The events of September 11, 2001, demonstrated a broader scope for international terrorist activity than most people at the time assumed. They revealed the heightened ambitions of Osama bin Laden and his followers.

While the world watched the real-time horror of planes being rammed into buildings, policymakers and other experts - including many in this room today - could imagine the horrors al Qaeda would wreak were its members to fashion a device using nuclear materials whether an atomic bomb, or even a radiological dispersal device.

Faced with the declaration of madmen who wish to sow the fields of civilization with death and destruction, there can be no excuse on our part not to think of nuclear issues in terms of a very real terrorist threat.

Accordingly, our nonproliferation priorities reflect this fact. Perhaps the best example of this is the heightened cooperation between our nation and the Russian Federation as a result of the historic Bratislava accord negotiated by Presidents Bush and Putin.

As a consequence of the decision of the two Presidents, the United States and Russia are working more closely now than at any point.   Indeed, we are partners in a war against global terror, and we have held several joint meetings to strengthen this partnership and advance our mutual goals.  These meetings have included the leadership of our respective departments and agencies at all levels, including very productive sessions between myself and Director Rumyantsev, first in February and then in June of this year.  And in a few days, the Director and I will have a follow-up meeting to take our efforts to the next level.

Let me mention a few of the areas in which Russia and the U.S. are cooperating to make the world more secure.

     *We are working together on issues of emergency response, and are accelerating our work on nuclear security.

     *For example, two weeks ago Russian experts participated as observers in a tabletop exercise demonstrating how our Department, with the FBI, would respond to a scenario involving a search for nuclear materials and the detonation of a radiological dispersion device.

     *U.S. and Russian experts met several times to organize activities in sharing "best practices" in the area of security assurances at nuclear facilities.

     *Last month, we conducted a bilateral workshop in Moscow focused on promoting "security culture," including fostering disciplined, well-trained and responsible protective forces. 

     *In addition, I am pleased to announce that the first conversion of a Russian-supplied research reactor from Highly Enriched Uranium to Low Enriched fuel. That reactor is located in the Czech Republic. Because of this success, we were able to safely airlift a significant amount of HEU from the Czech Technical University reactor near Prague for safe and secure storage in Russia.

     *And we are finalizing arrangements with our Russian counterparts to return the first shipment of Russian origin spent HEU from Uzbekistan by the end of next month.

These achievements are making the world more secure.  But it is important to remember that these actions address vulnerabilities created during the Cold War.  We now have the opportunity to reshape our thinking so that nonproliferation is the cornerstone for the next evolution of civilian power and fuel cycles.

The other major development that should inform the 21st century nonproliferation regime stems from major growth in the global economy.  Most analysts agree that the coming decades will be marked by economic expansion around the globe.

We expect the United States economy to remain robust, certainly. We should also expect to see growth in many parts of the developing world, from China and India to South America and Africa.

If these forecasts are correct, it will mean the improvement of living standards for people all over the planet.  It will mean the rescue of millions from poverty and despair--a development all of us would welcome.

But with economic growth comes other impacts that must be anticipated--specifically, a commensurate growth in the worldwide energy demand.  Simply, the world will need much more energy in the coming decades - the Energy Information Administration estimates perhaps as much as 50 percent more by 2025, with more than half of that growth coming in the world's emerging economies.

The questions that face all of us, not to mention our colleagues around the world in government, academia, industry, and the public policy arena, are as simple as they are momentous: How do we meet this demand?  How do we do it in a way that protects and preserves the environment?  How do we do this in a way that leaves all the nations of the earth safer and more secure?

The search for answers to these questions increasingly points in one direction: nuclear energy.

     Nuclear energy is manifestly safe.

     It is clean.

     It is efficient and affordable.

And it produces no greenhouse gases, which has to be a consideration at a time when concerns about greenhouse gas emissions drive the global public policy debates.

The United States government believes that nuclear power will - and that it must - play an enlarged role to meet the global demand for clean, affordable, safe, and reliable sources of energy.

The challenge that confronts us, then, is finding ways to expand the use of nuclear power, making its benefits available to a wider group of nations and people while simultaneously maintaining and improving the international nonproliferation regime to ensure that nuclear power does not provide the cover for a covert nuclear weapons program.

That is no easy task. I think it is clear, however, that it is a task that will require active participation by all the nations represented here, including the United States.

To my mind, two prerequisites need to be met: We must reinvigorate America's commitment to developing nuclear energy technology and systems; and we must enhance the work of international forums such as the IAEA in forging a strengthened nonproliferation approach to the expanded global use of nuclear energy.

Let me take a few moments to speak to both of these issues.

On the first point - restoring American efforts in nuclear energy technology - I must remind this audience that no new nuclear power plants have been built in the U.S. in decades. Much of the reason for that has to do with the incident at Three Mile Island in 1979.  This episode spurred a number of safety and regulatory change--as well as subsequent prolonged legal entanglements. 

Yet nuclear power is not only safe, it is also the cheapest means of large scale production of energy and the most efficient.  Today, the average plant now runs around 90 percent capacity. Twenty five years ago, a nuclear plant was lucky to run at even 60 percent capacity.

And nuclear power is no less clean than before, which is why we need it both to remain a key component in our future power mix and to help meet the developing world's need for affordable and reliable electricity in the coming decades.

Our government has taken a number of dramatic steps recently that are setting the stage for an expansion of nuclear power.

Most notably, the landmark energy policy legislation that President Bush signed in August contains a host of provisions to facilitate nuclear energy's resurgence in the U.S. Among them is a measure establishing federal insurance to protect new reactor projects from foundering due to regulatory and legal delays.  Other key provisions, such as NP 2010--a cost shared partnership between industry and government-- will demonstrate streamlined regulatory processes, leading the way for industry to field new advanced light water reactors by the end of this decade.   

These are not the only measures being taken to promote nuclear power.  For instance, this Administration is committed to the success of establishing Yucca Mountain as the nation's permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.  Solving the problem of how to store spent fuel will reap tremendous benefits for America's future and will help set the stage for an expansion of nuclear power.  And permanent geologic storage at Yucca Mountain offers the safest, most secure solution for dealing with this challenge.

Our Administration is also working with nearly a dozen international partners through the Generation IV International Forum to accelerate development of advanced nuclear energy systems - systems that offer further improvements in efficiency, sustainability, safety, and, most importantly, proliferation resistance.

Additionally, we are pursuing an Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative to achieve a sensible long-term approach for dealing with spent nuclear fuel.  And we recently joined the IAEA's International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles to address the framework requirements that these future plans will require.

It is important to note that in addressing reprocessing--or recycling--technologies for dealing with spent fuel, we are guided by one overarching goal:  to seek a global norm of no separated plutonium.

Regardless of whether one believes reprocessing has worked well in those nations where it is practiced, I think everyone would agree that the stores of plutonium that have built up as a consequence of conventional reprocessing technologies pose a growing proliferation risk that requires vigilant attention.

Therefore the pursuit of recycling technologies that do not produce separated plutonium must be considered not just a worthwhile, but a necessary, goal.

These activities lead naturally to the second of the two prerequisites I mentioned earlier - and that is the steps we must take to press forward with a sensible 21st century nonproliferation approach to the expanded global use of nuclear energy.

After all, the grand ideas we nurse for the future of nuclear power can amount to nothing without the firmest possible conviction about preventing the spread of nuclear technologies, materials, and expertise.

In an address last year at the National Defense University, President Bush issued a bold challenge to the world's nuclear supplier states.

He called on them to commit to assuring the benefits of nuclear energy to those states willing to forego enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. And he called on them to refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technologies to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.

The President proposed this initiative with the aim of closing the loophole in the Nonproliferation Treaty that had been exploited by North Korea and Iran while ensuring the continued expansion of nuclear power around the globe. As President Bush noted in his remarks, "Enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

He is right. And the proposal he put forward marks a major step in strengthening the international nonproliferation regime the Nobel committee rightly commended last month.

Since the President made this proposal 21 months ago, we have engaged with other suppliers and the IAEA on the challenges of assuring fuel services to those reactor states that swear off enrichment and reprocessing. It is not enough to promise that those states will have reliable access at reasonable cost to fuel for civilian reactors. A promise amounts to little without the means to carry it out.

If we expect to foster real cooperation, we need to provide reliable access to nuclear fuel.  The current commercial market is able to satisfy the demand for fuel services, but there is a need for a back-up or "safety net" mechanism that could provide reliable access to nuclear fuel in the event of possible future disruptions in market supply.  To that end, the United States has been working with the IAEA and the major fuel suppliers to put in place a mechanism that would allow the IAEA to assist states in identifying alternative suppliers who could meet their needs in the event of such disruptions. 

We are also exploring additional steps that would add additional credibility to assurances of supply and provide stronger incentives for countries to forgo enrichment and reprocessing.   Last month I announced plans to reserve up to 17 metric tons of highly enriched uranium to help establish a fuel reserve to support fuel supply assurances.  When blended down under IAEA verification, this material would result in approximately 290 metric tons of LEU, or enough fuel for 10 reactor core reloads. We are strongly encouraging other international partners to establish similar reserves.  

We are also examining issues related to the return and storage of spent fuel, which could allow recipient states to avoid a number of cost, safety and safeguards burdens.  In the longer term, we see fuel cycle states offering "cradle-to-grave" fuel cycle services, leasing fuel for power reactors and then taking it back for reprocessing and disposition.

The success of this initiative will require the full commitment not just of my government, but of all fuel supplier and fuel recipient states as well. In particular, we will need to cooperate on disposition methods and technologies for high-level wastes and for spent fuels. We also mustn't close the door on the possibility of establishing international spent fuel repositories.

I want to note that these activities can complement our broader and more traditional nonproliferation goals.

For instance, we recently marked a major milestone in our Megatons to Megawatts program to blend down 500 metric tons of Highly Enriched Uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons.

Last month, we proudly announced that we had reached the halfway point in this program.

In the ten years of its existence, we have successfully blended down 250 metric tons of HEU. That's the equivalent of 10,000 Russian warheads rendered harmless, with the resulting Low Enriched Uranium available for use in American civilian nuclear reactors.

Nor is this the only swords-to-plowshares achievement worth commemorating.

In May of last year, President Bush announced plans to reduce our nation's nuclear weapons stockpile by nearly half, to its smallest size since the Eisenhower era. That decision enables us to dispose of a significant amount of weapons-grade nuclear material.

After months of very careful study on how to proceed with this immensely challenging task, I am pleased to be able to announce this morning our plans to remove 200 metric tons of HEU from the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

That 200 metric tons of Highly Enriched Uranium is enough for 8,000 nuclear warheads, representing the largest amount of special nuclear material ever removed from the stockpile in the history of the United States' nuclear weapons program.

The bulk of this amount - 160 metric tons - will be provided for use in propulsion systems for our nation's nuclear navy. Designating this HEU for use by Hyman Rickover's navy will have the added benefit of postponing the need for construction of a new uranium high-enrichment facility for at least fifty years.

An additional 20 metric tons will be reserved for space missions and for research reactors that currently use HEU pending their conversion to LEU fuel cores.

I am particularly pleased that the final 20 metric tons of HEU will be down-blended to LEU for use in civilian nuclear power reactors or research reactors, thereby minimizing its potential usefulness to terrorists.

Like the 17 metric tons of HEU we announced last month for future assured fuel supply, this 20 tons will help extend the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy.

In short, it is both an energy security triumph, and a nonproliferation triumph, and it should serve as an example for the sort of approach we are committed to taking in the years ahead.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to thank you for the invitation to appear this morning.

In wrapping up my remarks, I think it is worth remembering an exhortation attributed to the Carnegie Endowment's first president, the venerable statesman Elihu Root.

Secretary Root was scheduled to appear in Oslo in September 1914 to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In the remarks he prepared, he noted that "the present generation has before it a golden opportunity for service in the cause of peace."

Sadly, Secretary Root was unable to deliver that message. The outbreak of the first World War prevented him from traveling to Europe for the ceremony.

His message of peace went unheard as the continent of Europe descended into chaos and bloodshed.

But it occurs to me that his words need not go unheard by our generation. The message is timeless, and well applies to our situation today.

Once again, we have "a golden opportunity for service in the cause of peace." We can take steps to extend the benefits of atomic power to every corner of the earth, so that a safe, affordable, emissions-free, and reliable source of energy can be used by growing economies .to spread prosperity . to lift millions out of poverty . and to plant the seeds of peace and stability.

We can take steps to improve and strengthen the international nonproliferation regime, so that we can indeed spread nuclear energy's blessings without worries about dangerous materials and technology spreading as well.

This is the opportunity - the golden opportunity - with which our generation is presented.  This is the golden opportunity Elihu Root spoke of, transposed to our era.  The only question is, will we take it?

Thank you.

Location: Washington, DC

Media contact(s): Craig Stevens, 202/586-4940