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Secretary Chu's Remarks at the 2012 IAEA General Conference -- As Prepared for Delivery

September 18, 2012 - 5:03pm

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Thank you, Ambassador Barros.  I also want to thank Director General Amano for his outstanding leadership.

I am honored to represent the United States today, and I want to share a message from President Barack Obama:

To all those gathered for the 2012 IAEA General Conference, please accept my best wishes as you begin your important work.  The United States is proud to be a partner in working toward our shared goal of harnessing the peaceful use of nuclear energy even as we confront the danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Three years, ago, in Prague, I pledged that the United States would do our part to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.  Since then, we have worked with Russia under the New START Treaty to decrease our deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s. 

We reduced the number and role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy. 

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has been upheld, and at the Nuclear Security Summits in Washington and Seoul, we made important progress in securing nuclear materials.  Working with allies and partners, we have also made it clear that treaties are binding, rules will be enforced, and violations must have consequences.    

This conference is an opportunity to build on this progress we have made by ensuring the IAEA has the resources and authority needed to carry out its mandate.  

The IAEA must be able to verify that states are abiding by their safeguards agreements and to sound the alarm when they do not. It must support states in exercising their sovereign responsibility to secure their nuclear material, and it must continue enhancing global nuclear safety, as it has following the tragedy at Fukushima.

To its credit, the IAEA is playing a stronger role than ever to promote nuclear safety and strengthen safeguards.  Programs to keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists are on the rise, and developing states are participating in peaceful nuclear projects at an unprecedented rate.  The organization is also helping to foster new frameworks for civil nuclear energy. 

Nuclear safety activities are increasing, as evidenced by the Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety hosted by the IAEA.   These significant gains are testaments to the contributions to peace and prosperity made every day by the IAEA. 

As we reflect on these accomplishments, let us continue preparing for the challenges that lie ahead. And as more nations enjoy the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy, let us recommit to our shared long-term vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

Again, I wish you all the best for a successful conference.

In his 2009 speech in Prague, President Obama challenged the international community to reduce nuclear dangers while ensuring that all countries that follow the rules can benefit from nuclear energy.

Toward his vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world, President Obama called for concrete steps to bring increased stability, predictability, and mutual confidence to the international security environment. 

He said the basic bargain of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty—or NPT—is sound, and called for steps to strengthen each of its pillars. 

And finally, he called for the international community to ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon and outlined a plan to secure vulnerable nuclear material and facilities around the world.

Today, as we look to the future, I am proud to report on the progress we have made together, and look forward to discussing the challenges that remain.

Mr. President, across the globe there is a pressing demand for new sources of energy.  Access to peaceful uses of nuclear energy offers a wide range of benefits for humanity.  

Just last month, the world watched as NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on the surface of Mars and beamed back to Earth breathtaking images of the Red Planet. That rover, and the discoveries it will make possible are powered by an advanced nuclear power system called the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator.

Closer to home, nuclear technologies help to not only power communities but also to make foods safer, water cleaner, and people healthier. 

The NPT recognizes this need for nuclear technology, and the United States will continue to collaborate with our international partners to ensure that countries that play by the rules have access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

We have worked to create a new international framework for peaceful nuclear energy.  This framework is addressing infrastructure development, financing, and comprehensive nuclear fuel services. 

The United States supports expanded and reliable access to fuel supplies, working through the commercial marketplace and public-private partnerships, for peaceful nuclear programs. We welcome the steps the IAEA has taken in this area.

As a last resort, the United States also supports fuel assurance mechanisms to avoid supply disruptions through such efforts as the IAEA low-enriched uranium bank, the American Assured Fuel Supply, the Russian low-enriched uranium reserve at Angarsk, and the UK Nuclear Fuel Assurances mechanism.  These efforts combined provide a multilayered framework to ensure uninterrupted supply.

In May 2010, Secretary of State Clinton announced the Peaceful Uses Initiative to expand international support for IAEA peaceful uses projects by $100 million over five years.  Secretary Clinton pledged $50 million to this effort and U.S. contributions have exceeded $21 million towards projects that have benefited more than 120 states. 

We commend the 12 countries that have joined us in this initiative. 

As part of this support, the United States was pleased to announce during the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that it will make up to $320,000 available through the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative during the project’s first year. 

The United States is also supporting cutting-edge research and development to advance the next generation of nuclear technologies. 

Over the past four years, the Department of Energy has invested $219 million in research grants at more than 70 universities, supporting R&D into a full spectrum of technologies, from advanced reactor concepts to enhanced safety design.

To enhance public confidence in nuclear power, we must show the world that we are improving and strengthening the international nuclear safety regime.

The U.S. commends the efforts of the Agency and its Member States in implementing the Action Plan for Nuclear Safety and continuing to learn lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.  The United States, like many other countries, has worked extensively to assess the safety of its operating reactors. 

We have benefitted greatly from the insights of others and welcomed opportunities to share what we have learned.  To complement these efforts, the Agency has provided forums for regulators, operators, and other stakeholders to come together to discuss lessons learned. 

The Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety converged on some of the most significant technical topics arising from the Fukushima accident in order to enhance effective implementation of the Convention and to promote safety. 

We are particularly pleased that the Meeting identified a number of actions in the "Action-Oriented Objectives" document that can and should be taken immediately. The United States calls upon all Contracting Parties to join us in confirming our intent to take all of the identified actions.

Separately, countries are already incorporating passive safety systems into the design of new reactors.  This is the direction that the industry needs to go.

We look forward to the upcoming Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety to be held in Fukushima, Japan in December.

The United States, in partnership with the IAEA and other Member States, is working to strengthen the international emergency management system to respond effectively to any nuclear accident or radiological emergency, including registering our response capabilities in the IAEA Response and Assistance Network.

The promise and potential of nuclear energy also carries great responsibility.  As we all know, the threat of nuclear terrorism is simply too great to ignore, and the challenge too complex for any nation to address alone.

The United States was proud to convene the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, bringing together leaders who recognize that we must address these threats collectively.

And building on the momentum of President Obama’s Prague speech and the 2010 Summit in the United States, world leaders from 53 states and four international organizations attended the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in the Republic of Korea earlier this year and made over 100 new pledges for concrete action. 

To date, the international community’s achievements in reducing the vulnerability of nuclear materials and minimizing the civilian use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) have made the world a safer place. 

We have also worked with the international community to convert 62 reactors from HEU to low enriched uranium, secure 1,338 U.S. and foreign buildings containing nuclear and radiological material, and remove all HEU from 21 countries.

We have partnered with Russia to monitor the elimination of more than 450 metric tons of Russian HEU under the 1993 U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement, which is now 90 percent complete.

Domestically, the United States has down-blended more than 130 metric tons of surplus HEU to low enriched uranium, or enough material to make 3,000 nuclear weapons. 

And since the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, the United States has worked with more than a dozen countries to remove approximately 650 kilograms of HEU and plutonium—enough material to make dozens of nuclear weapons.

And we are working with our partners in the international community to enhance security at facilities with sensitive nuclear material around the world. 

Even in the United States, we realize that we must always remain vigilant.  Last month, when protestors breached the security perimeter of one of our most important nuclear security facilities, we took swift and strong action to redouble security at all of our nuclear sites. 

While they never posed a threat to any sensitive materials, this unfortunate incident was an important wake up call for our entire complex, and an important reminder that none of us can afford anything but the highest level of vigilance. 

Member States must provide the IAEA with appropriate resources to carry out its vital safeguards mission.

To achieve our mutual goals of moving toward a world without nuclear weapons and expanding the peaceful use of nuclear energy globally, we must all give our financial, political, and technical support to a robust international safeguards regime.

A growing international safeguards regime, capable of detecting diversion at known facilities and providing assurances regarding the absence of undeclared activities, is a condition for achieving disarmament and making the world safe for nuclear energy.

The United States is committed to providing the support that the IAEA needs through our Member State Support Program and the Department of Energy’s Next Generation Safeguards Initiative. These programs provide over $25 million per year in extra-budgetary and in-kind support to the Department of Safeguards.

The United States also continues to support the Additional Protocol as an essential standard for international safeguards verification.  To date more than 100 states have brought into force an Additional Protocol, including seven countries that have done so since the last General Conference.  

We applaud those countries, and urge states that have not yet ratified the Protocol to do so in order to strengthen support for the IAEA’s important verification mission.  We also urge countries that have not yet done so to conclude the comprehensive safeguards agreements required by the NPT, and to modernize any outdated small quantity protocols to those agreements.

These steps, while vital to reducing nuclear dangers, are not enough. 

Mr. President, the United States takes very seriously our responsibilities under the NPT to take steps toward achieving our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

It has been nearly 20 years since the United States conducted its last nuclear weapon test explosion.  And since then, we have taken significant steps to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal and dispose of excess fissile material from our defense programs. 

We and our Russian counterparts are successfully implementing the New START Treaty. Once the Treaty is fully implemented, the United States will have reduced its deployed strategic nuclear warheads by approximately 85 percent since the Cold War.

Together with Russia and the IAEA, we are working to complete an agreement that will enable the Agency to independently verify that the United States and Russia are meeting our mutual commitments to each eliminate at least 34 metric tons of former military plutonium. 

While the United States and our partners have demonstrated our dedication to fulfilling our commitments under the NPT, regrettably, not all countries are holding up their end of the bargain and complying with their legal obligations. 

States that cheat bring instability to the international system and undermine the value of our shared commitments under the NPT.

Iran is defying multiple IAEA Board of Governors and UN Security Council resolutions and has violated its NPT obligations and its bilateral safeguards agreement with the Agency.

Last week, the Board passed another resolution holding Iran to account for its continued violations of its international obligations.  This time, the Board noted that it is “essential and urgent” for Iran to cooperate with the IAEA to address all outstanding concerns.

Iran continues a decade-long pattern of evasion regarding questions over the nature of its nuclear program, including those related to possible military dimensions of its nuclear activities.

In November 2011, the IAEA Secretariat reported that it had “credible” information that Iran had conducted activities that were specific to nuclear weapons development prior to the end of 2003.  Further, it noted that activities relevant to nuclear explosive device design “may still be ongoing.”  In the Director General’s report released before last week’s Board meeting, he went on to say that additional information “further corroborates the analysis” in the November 2011 report.

Iran is still not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the Agency to resolve outstanding questions about these activities.  That fact, along with Iran’s unwillingness to implement the Additional Protocol, leaves the IAEA unable to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared activities and unable to assure the world community that Iran’s nuclear program is solely peaceful.

Iran is not the only state violating its international obligations. 

Syria must cooperate fully with the IAEA to come back into compliance with its safeguards agreement.

And North Korea must abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and return, at an early date, to the NPT and IAEA safeguards. 

The United States continues to believe that the IAEA has an essential role to play in the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the DPRK.

We have consistently called on the DPRK to cease all nuclear activities immediately, and allow the IAEA to resume its sustained presence to monitor and verify the cessation. 

And we commend and stand firmly behind the IAEA’s efforts to maintain readiness for resumption of its monitoring and verification activities in the DPRK. 

Though our agenda is both broad and challenging, we can make meaningful progress through partnership and cooperation.  

In 2013, the IAEA will host the International Conference on Nuclear Security: Enhancing Global Efforts, to continue its leading role in nuclear security.  The Netherlands will carry forward the Nuclear Security agenda by hosting the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit. 

As agreed in the joint communiqué at Seoul, we encourage states to increase voluntary contributions to the IAEA’s Nuclear Security Fund. 

And we encourage all states to announce voluntary specific actions intended to minimize the civil use of HEU by the end of 2013, including through the conversion of reactors to low enriched uranium fuel.

We need an international commitment to unlock the fuel cycle of the future.  In the United States, we are investing in the research and development of new fuel cycle technologies—including designing reprocessing facilities for which diversion of nuclear material or misuse of these facilities would be much more difficult and more easily detected.

We also ask all states to support the strengthening of IAEA safeguards and participation in the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative, including through contributions where possible.

On the disarmament front, the United States will continue step-by-step to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. 

This includes pursuit of a future agreement with Russia for broad reductions in all nuclear weapons – strategic, non-strategic, deployed, and non-deployed. 

And it involves continuing engagement among all five NPT nuclear weapon states to improve nuclear transparency and discuss nuclear weapons and proliferation issues.

We will stand with those demanding the immediate start of the long delayed negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.

The United States remains committed to ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and strengthening and ultimately completing its monitoring and verification regime as we look forward to the Treaty’s eventual entry into force.

To continue future arms reduction initiatives, the United States will continue researching advanced monitoring and verification capabilities that can provide confidence in a range of verification initiatives.

Together, we have made significant progress, but it is up to all of us gathered here to keep up the momentum. 

Let us work together to build on this record of achievement for the good of the planet and so that our children and grandchildren may live in times of peace and prosperity. 

In my conclusion, I want to remind you of yet another space probe, also powered by a radio isotope thermal generator. That space probe was Voyager 1, launched nearly 35 years ago in 1977.  Today, it is reported it is now crossing out of the heliosphere with solar winds of the sun.   It is still working.

In 1990, the astronomer Carl Sagan convinced NASA to turn Voyager's camera backward, to take a picture of planet Earth.  Here is a condensed version of what Sagan wrote about this picture.

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us.  On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives …. every hunter and forager, every hero and coward . . . every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer . . . every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena . . . Our posturings, our imagined self-importance … are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck … in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate . . . Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

. . . To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

And so to that I also add an ancient Native American saying: "Treat the Earth well.  It was not given to you by your parents.  It was loaned to you by your children."

Thank you.

 

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