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Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman's Remarks at the Tokyo American Center -- As Prepared for Delivery

December 15, 2011 - 12:00pm

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Thank you, Jeff, for the introduction.  Jeff has recently returned to Japan as the Department of Energy’s attaché here.  He continues the long tradition of excellent energy officers that have helped to support Japan across a broad range of energy issues.

I also want to thank our hosts here at the Tokyo American Center for graciously providing me with the opportunity to speak with you this evening.   And thank you to our many Japanese friends here tonight, for the warm welcome and bright hospitality. It is great to be back in Japan.

Over the years I have visited Japan many times, but this is my first visit since the tragic events of this past March, so once again I would like to extend my condolences to the thousands of Japanese victims from the earthquake and tsunami.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Japanese people, who have exemplified the deep courage and force of their national character in how they have responded to this crisis.

Japan is a close friend and ally of the United States.  Your pain is our pain.  Your loss is our loss.  I assure you, we will continue to support Japan’s efforts to recover from these unprecedented disasters.

Our Cornerstone Relationship

The alliance we cemented in 1960 through the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security has lasted longer than any similar agreement between two great powers since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which opened the era of rigorous scientific and intellectual exchange we call the Age of Enlightenment.

The relationship between our two countries remains one of the cornerstones of peace and security throughout the world.

Together, the United States and Japan have forged a vibrant and robust partnership that is uniquely well suited to address the global challenges of a rapidly growing and increasingly dynamic world.

We share strong common interests in open international trade and the growth of markets around the world.  And our bilateral economic relationship is responsible for enormous flows of trade, investment, and finance that make each of our countries more competitive and resilient in the global marketplace.  For example, the two-way trade between our countries totals more than $200 billion a year, making Japan the United States’ fourth largest trading partner.

As the world’s two largest funders of science and technology research, the United States and Japan agreed in November 2009 to expand our cooperation to jointly develop transformative clean and efficient energy technologies needed to solve global energy security and climate change challenges.

Today, I want to focus specifically on one aspect of our relationship – that is, U.S. cooperation with Japan regarding nuclear energy, nuclear safety, and nuclear security.

For decades, we have worked in close partnership with Japan on nuclear issues, ranging from preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and confronting North Korea, to power generation and operational safety at civil nuclear plants, to deep commercial ties and industrial cooperation between Japanese and American companies.

So years before March 11th – when the earthquake and then the tsunami struck and crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – the tradition of cooperation between our two countries was already firmly established.

As soon as we learned about the problems at Fukushima Daiichi, we knew we had to help.  Literally, from the first moments of the aftermath, we have been engaged in efforts to provide assistance wherever and however we could be most helpful.  I know because I was in touch with our Japanese colleagues during those first hours when we were responding to the disaster. 

Within days of the accident, our National Nuclear Security Administration sent to Japan a team of 34 experts and more than 17,000 pounds of equipment in support of efforts to manage the crisis. Our Aerial Measuring System was instrumental in the early assessment of contamination on the ground.  And the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Incident Team employed assets at our National Laboratories to model and provide ongoing atmospheric predictions for a number of scenarios.

In the intervening months, officials from the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, our national laboratories, and other agencies have continued to maintain close contact with Japanese officials to provide expertise in a variety of areas.

If anything, as is often the case when partners work through a crisis, the Fukushima experience has brought us even closer, and has made our relationship stronger going forward. 

And I must also recognize the tremendous response from the nuclear industry worldwide.  The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations quickly and effectively mobilized and coordinated support efforts from nuclear power companies around the world to provide additional support to the Japanese response.

Japan’s Unique Understanding of Nuclear Energy

No one in the world understands the risks and benefits of nuclear energy better than the Japanese people.  No other nation has experienced the use of nuclear weapons in war.  That searing experience brought Japan not only suffering, but also a deep understanding of the need to channel our knowledge of atomic fission toward peaceful ends.

The rest of the world has rightfully looked to Japan for moral and intellectual leadership on issues of nuclear nonproliferation and arms control. Japan has always carried that mantle responsibly, and for its continued leadership in these critical global issues, the world owes Japan a debt of gratitude.

Even having experienced nuclear destruction, Japan was among the first nations to embrace atomic energy, as a uniquely suitable way to power its booming postwar economy, which lacked the local hydrocarbon resources that other developed countries had primarily relied upon to drive industrial growth.

In the process, the country has also emerged as a world leader in nuclear energy technology.  That leadership is important, as countries around the world are turning to nuclear power to meet their growing energy needs.

Moving forward, as the international community continues to use and develop nuclear energy resources, it is essential that we only do so with a deeper understanding and commitment to nuclear safety.

The accident at Fukushima reminded the world of what we already knew – that nuclear safety must be our top priority, and that a nuclear accident anywhere is a nuclear accident everywhere.  Any nuclear accident generates consequences around the world, and therefore it is our responsibility as a global community to learn from Japan’s experience.

As we have with past nuclear events, we must carefully and scientifically analyze both the circumstances of the accident and the response.  And we then must apply these lessons and best practices into our own operations with a focus on improving the safety of our existing reactor fleet, as well as next generation nuclear technologies.

The assessments that the Japanese government has itself undertaken and shared throughout the world show that there are indeed significant opportunities for improvement.

Japan has also cooperated closely with the international community through the International Atomic Energy Agency and other fora to generate a wide-ranging set of lessons learned that will inform our collective actions for strengthening the international nuclear regulatory regime. 

I had the opportunity to participate in the nuclear safety conference hosted by the IAEA in Vienna last June, and was impressed by the high level of engagement and the strength of the international response to this critical challenge.  I would also like to acknowledge and commend the leadership of Director General Yukiya Amano over these many months in coordinating the global response to the crisis.

I believe it is important that we as a global community continue to review, and, as appropriate, revise international nuclear safety standards and protocols.  Within this framework, national regulators can develop and implement domestic safety regulations, which take into account the specifics of their reactor fleets, natural geology, and environmental factors.

Here in Japan, the government has informed us of the steps it is taking to strengthen the safety of its nuclear power plants, including new emergency safety measures and backup electricity and cooling systems across its existing reactor fleet.  It is also taking action to bolster the independence of its Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and to review its protocols for protecting critical nuclear assets.  We welcome these commitments by the Japanese government.

U.S. Nuclear Industry Post-Fukushima

Just as Japan has analyzed the initial lessons learned from Fukushima and is now taking action to strengthen the safety of its reactors, countries around the world – those that already have nuclear reactors, those that are building them, and those that are planning them  – are now in the process of assessing their own nuclear programs to determine the impact of Fukushima on their domestic energy futures.

As President Obama made clear, the United States will study the lessons of Fukushima to improve the safety of our reactors, but we continue to believe nuclear power has an important role to play as part of a diversified clean energy portfolio that will promote economic prosperity, enhance our security, and reduce global carbon pollution.

In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and nuclear power plant operators conducted inspections at all 104 of our operating reactors to confirm their readiness to manage large-scale natural disasters.  In July, a high-level Nuclear Regulatory Commission Task Force completed a 90-day review of the agency’s regulatory oversight and safety standards, given the insights from Fukushima, and the Commission is now considering how to move forward with the Task Force’s recommendations.

And in parallel with government and regulatory efforts, the U.S. nuclear industry is taking its own steps to integrate and coordinate its efforts to understand the events related to the disaster and to develop improved safety and emergency preparedness plans at the nation’s nuclear plants.

Key Role for Nuclear Energy Globally

As countries take steps to assess their options for expanding access to affordable and reliable energy resources, it is important to remember that all sources of energy – whether oil or natural gas, coal, renewables or nuclear – come with their own challenges and risks.  It is the role of governments to analyze and weigh those factors, and then to help industry manage those risks. 

And though the Fukushima accident has heightened awareness about the risks of nuclear energy, we must recognize that the larger energy challenges we faced before the disaster still persist.

Our global community continues to urbanize and grow, driving new demand for energy.

More of us now live in cities than in rural, agricultural communities. And we marked a major demographic milestone earlier this year – world population rose to more than 7 billion people.  With these population and demographic changes, the demand for global energy resources will continue to grow.  The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2035, global demand for electricity will grow 85 percent.

And not only does the risk of climate change remain substantial, global emissions of carbon dioxide are trending in the wrong direction. Analysis released earlier this month indicates that emissions from burning fossil fuels jumped more in 2010 than in any year since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

People around the world realize we must address these long-term challenges by expanding the global economy along low-carbon growth pathways.

That’s why you saw a global consensus emerge earlier this week in Durban, with both developed and developing nations agreeing to a framework that sets the world on a path to achieve aggressive carbon reduction targets.

Clean energy resources can offer affordable and reliable electricity for families and businesses in a way that boosts and broadens our present prosperity without mortgaging the welfare of future generations.

As one of the few large-scale, carbon-free sources of energy available for deployment today, safe, secure nuclear power is an important part of that puzzle.  Nuclear power can help meet the growing global demand for clean energy while creating new jobs, growing our economies, and at the same time, making our countries more energy secure.

As two of the nations responsible for pioneering the peaceful use of atomic energy, the United States and Japan share an opportunity – and a responsibility – to safely speed that transition.  In fact, next week in the United States we will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 in Idaho, which marked the first time that peaceful atomic energy was used to generate electricity.

Our two nations are well positioned to build on this rich history as we look to benefit from the global economic and export opportunities in this field.

As I have traveled the world in the months since the Fukushima accident, I have spoken to officials from a broad range of countries on their plans for nuclear energy moving forward.  Most of them reached the same conclusion: that is, we must use the lessons from Fukushima to continue to improve nuclear safety worldwide. 

What has surprised me though, is how there has not been a rejection of nuclear energy.  Instead, most governments, like our own, continue to view nuclear energy as an important contributor to a low-carbon future.

We have also seen a marked increase in enthusiasm for the nuclear technologies that best address safety concerns – including reactors built by consortia of U.S. and Japanese companies, such as Westinghouse and Toshiba, General Electric and Hitachi.

This offers an important economic opportunity for the U.S.-Japan partnership in the global nuclear industry.  By continuing to play a leading role globally, our companies can work together in ways that create new jobs and spur innovation in both nations.

We are also both uniquely well situated to assure that the continued expansion of nuclear energy around the globe is not accompanied by a commensurate expansion of nuclear weapons proliferation risks. 

This includes leveraging the strong connections between our governments and companies to build an international framework for nuclear energy cooperation.  This type of framework could offer assurance to countries that they would be able to reliably access fuel services for the front and back end of the nuclear fuel cycle without incurring the heavy financial burden of investing in domestic enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.

Once again, this could offer new opportunities to expand our countries’ exports, while helping new countries access the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy and minimizing the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation.

That is the vision that President Obama set forth in Prague in April 2009, where he laid out his vision for a world without nuclear weapons.

To ultimately achieve that vision, the world needs the skills, resources, and the moral leadership of Japan.  I appreciate the leadership role Japan has taken so far in this shared effort to develop a viable international system for promoting fuel cycle security and to encourage the adoption of such measures globally.  We need to continue working toward that vision -- together.

New Opportunities for U.S.-Japan Nuclear Partnership

In addition to the steps our countries are taking to actively participate in the global nuclear market, the nuclear partnership between our two nations is also expanding into new areas of cooperation.

For example, next month, the National Nuclear Security Administration will co-host a workshop on Fukushima safeguards and security issues with Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. 

In addition, because of the United States’ unique expertise in nuclear cleanup operations, Japan has requested strategic support from the U.S. Department of Energy for efforts to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi plant, to manage the site from an environmental standpoint, and to pursue off-site remediation efforts.                                     

Cold War weapons production efforts in the United States left our country with a significant nuclear cleanup legacy, including high-level waste, contaminated soil and groundwater, and a large number of facilities to decontaminate and decommission.   For example, at the Hanford Site in Washington State and at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, we have a total of more than 90 million gallons of liquid waste in tanks that we are working to convert into more stable forms that do not threaten our environment.   

Over the last decade, the U.S. has undertaken ambitious efforts to treat this nuclear waste, and these ongoing operations have given the Department of Energy and our contractors unique capabilities and skills that are immediately applicable to Japan’s effort to clean up and decommission the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.  We know how to characterize the waste, how to identify the facilities that are needed to treat that waste safely and effectively, and we know how to plan for its safe removal and treatment.

In the nuclear security realm as well, we see new opportunities for cooperation.

Next March in Seoul, more than 40 leaders from around the globe will once again come together at the Nuclear Security Summit to address the critical challenges of nuclear terrorism and weapons proliferation. 

To better coordinate U.S.-Japan efforts supporting the Summit, in January we established a bilateral Nuclear Security Working Group, with a focus on nine agreed-upon areas for cooperation, from nuclear training capabilities to nuclear forensics, from accelerated reactor conversions to further safeguards cooperation.  I am particularly pleased by our recent progress in moving forward on improved nuclear materials transport security, and I wish the working group continued success as they prepare for the meetings in Seoul next year.

The events at Fukushima have also emphasized 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.  In short, the time has come to adopt the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, also known as the CSC.

The CSC has been developed to include and address the concerns of all States that might be affected by a nuclear incident.  It assures victims will receive prompt and equitable compensation in the event of an accident without protracted litigation.  The CSC also helps prevent accidents by permitting operators, suppliers and investors to work together on nuclear projects as part of a harmonious and stable international legal environment, as well as to protect companies that offer their assistance to others in the industry during a nuclear accident. 

In the case of Fukushima, companies from around the world responded immediately and without hesitation.  But it is only common sense and common fairness that these same companies would not then be held liable for providing their assistance.

We welcome the progress made so far, and I encourage Japan once again to take an international leadership position by ratifying the CSC.  Japan’s ratification would bring the Convention into force, to the collective benefit of people everywhere.

Working Together as an International Community

The United States is committed to continuing to lead in these and other related efforts, but we will only succeed by working together as a global community.  This will require sustained vigilance and constant focus by industry, national regulators, and the international community. 

This is something we have done in the past. 

In response to Fukushima, we saw the international nuclear community immediately pull together to support the Japanese people in their time of crisis.  Governments, companies, and individuals around the world offered ideas.  They shipped equipment.  They flew to Japan to help.  They didn’t ask who would pay or whether they had liability protection or whether it was dangerous.  They just went.  Because that’s what friends and partners do.

And that is why we – as partners – must build on our already strong tradition of cooperation and shared interests in nuclear energy, safety, and security, to meet the current energy and climate challenge.

Out of adversity, we will find strength.  Out of adversity, we can – and must – build a better tomorrow.  Thank you.

 

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