By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
IPP Staff Writer
20 September 2011
Washington — U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told an international forum that nuclear energy, which holds enormous potential for global development, brings significant challenges to the world’s collective safety and security.
Chu said the goal is 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,” he said, reading from a message sent by President Obama.
“For those that play by the rules, we are committed to building new frameworks for cooperation that accelerate nuclear energy assistance and lower the risks of proliferation,” Obama’s statement said.
Chu spoke September 19 to the 151-nation meeting of the 55th annual General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
The approval of an IAEA nuclear fuel bank, to which the United States has committed $50 million for its development, and also the launch of the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative, to which the United States has committed another $50 million, will strengthen the foundation of the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, Chu told delegates. Expanding nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation has been a central goal of U.S. foreign policy during the Obama administration.
Chu said South Korea will host the next Nuclear Security Summit. The first summit was convened by Obama in 2010 in Washington and was aimed at securing the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials. He said that sharpening the world’s focus on nuclear security is crucial to preventing nuclear terrorism.
IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano told the conference that “nuclear security remains an extremely important issue for all states. Last week [September 11], we marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. In the wake of those attacks, the agency significantly expanded its nuclear security program to help states protect nuclear and other radioactive material and associated facilities against malicious acts.”
Amano also told delegations that there will be continuous and significant growth in the use of nuclear power in the next two decades, although at a slower rate than in previous IAEA projections.
“We expect the number of operating nuclear reactors in the world to increase by about 90 by 2030, in our low projection, or by around 350, in our high projection, from the current total of 432 reactors,” Amano said. “Most of the growth will occur in countries that already have operating nuclear power plants, such as China and India.”
Chu said the critical challenge facing the world is how to harness nuclear power for peaceful and productive uses while also guarding against the world’s most destructive weapons.
“No nation can tackle this challenge alone. We must face it together — and the IAEA is central to this effort,” Chu told the conference.
In the aftermath of the January earthquake and tsunami in Japan and their impact on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Chu said, the IAEA and its member-states pledged in June to re-examine nuclear safety standards, emergency preparedness plans and incident response capabilities. The United States supports those efforts and believes the IAEA plays the crucial central role.
The IAEA developed an action plan at the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in June to address lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi incident. But Chu also said that nations must maintain the central role as national regulators and plant operators in achieving safety objectives.
The events stemming from the Fukushima Daiichi incident illustrate 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, Chu said. That includes the adoption of the international Convention on Supplementary Compensation.
Nations also should work toward ratifying and implementing the relevant international conventions on safety and emergency response, such as the conventions on Nuclear Safety and on Assistance and Early Notification, Chu said.
Chu also said the United States supports the following:
• Discussion through the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation on issues that include infrastructure development, financing and nuclear fuel services.
• Expanded and reliable access to fuel supplies, working through the commercial marketplace and public-private partnerships, for peaceful nuclear programs.
• Strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
• A shared commitment to meeting Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, which the United States has taken toward fulfilling its nuclear disarmament obligations.
• Progress toward a shared commitment to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty into force by strengthening its verification regime.
Chu told the conference that the international community must continue to work together to prevent nuclear terrorism, which is one of the most immediate and extreme threats to global security.