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Deputy Secretary Poneman's Remarks at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit

February 17, 2010 - 1:04pm


Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman

Nuclear Deterrence Summit

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Alexandria, VA

I would like to thank Ed Helminski and Exchange Monitor Publications & Forums for organizing this summit and inviting me to speak.  The issues that will be discussed over the coming days at this conference are of vital importance to the Nation.

As we consider our nuclear energy future, all three program areas of the Department of Energy will be involved:

  1. National Nuclear Security Administration: We are working to reduce nuclear dangers, maintain a strong, safe and effective deterrent, and minimize the threat of proliferation.

  2. Office of Energy: At the same time, we view nuclear energy as a vital element in building a low-carbon future. 

  3. Office of Science: Science and technology underpin our security and energy efforts and are at the core of everything we do - from maintaining our deterrent, to ensuring the safe operation of the current generation of nuclear power stations, to exploring new technologies.

You have heard us talk about working across stovepipes within the DOE, and nowhere is this more important than in the nuclear arena.

Maintaining our Deterrent

First, let me address our nuclear security efforts.  President Obama outlined an ambitious agenda in Prague to reduce nuclear dangers.  And he gave it an animating vision when he expressed "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."

In that spirit, the President has called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and for negotiation of a fissile material cut-off treaty.  Even as we speak, U.S. negotiators under the direction of Under Secretary Tauscher are working hard to conclude a new START Treaty with Russia.

Now, as the President recognized in Prague, a nuclear weapon-free world will not be achieved quickly, perhaps not in our lifetime.  And he was clear that so long as nuclear weapons exist, we must ensure that the U.S. nuclear stockpile remains safe, secure, and effective.

As many of you know, the early analysis from the Nuclear Posture Review concluded that providing that assurance, especially at lower numbers of nuclear weapons, will require increased investments to strengthen an aging physical infrastructure and to sustain scientific and technical talent at our nation's national security laboratories.

As such, the President's 2011 budget includes a 13.4 percent increase in funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration to support necessary infrastructure, warhead life extension programs, and science and technology. 

I know Tom D'Agostino will address these issues in great detail later in the session, so I will leave further discussion of the NNSA complex to him.

Securing Vulnerable Materials

While maintaining our deterrent, we must do all we can to keep terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear weapons or the material to build them.  That is why President Obama has called for an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.

To underline his commitment to this goal, President Obama has invited more than 40 leaders from around the world to meet here in Washington to enhance global efforts to increase nuclear security and to prevent nuclear terrorism. 

The April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit will allow leaders to speak directly to one another on the issue of nuclear security, and to strengthen national commitments and cooperation at the highest levels.

The Department of Energy is hard at work in support of the President's effort, through a number of important programs: 

  • We are working to minimize the use of HEU in research reactors around the world, and repatriating U.S. and Russian-origin HEU.

  • Internationally, we are accelerating our efforts to secure nuclear material at its source.

  • We are also helping to strengthen the capability of foreign governments to deter, detect, and interdict illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials across international borders and through the global maritime shipping system.

In addition, through our Plutonium disposition programs and our monitoring of the HEU transparency efforts, we are working to convert surplus weapons-grade material into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors - the ultimate swords to ploughshares effort.

We are also consolidating nuclear materials domestically.  We have completed shipments of special nuclear material for the Hanford de-inventory campaign and moved eight metric tons of special nuclear material from NNSA sites. 

We are on schedule to complete the removal of Security Category special nuclear material from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory by the end of 2012.


Beyond our DOE programs, we are also working hard to preserve and strengthen the cornerstone of global nonproliferation efforts, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, when it comes up for review in May.   Fortunately, the President's Prague vision and agenda have laid a strong foundation for a successful conference.

That said, the NPT faces severe challenges right now.  In order to preserve its vitality, we must deal effectively with outliers. That brings us to North Korea and Iran.

For both of these hard cases, the U.S. position is clear. North Korea must, in a verifiable and irreversible way, dismantle its nuclear weapons program.  As President Obama has said, "North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons."

Regarding Iran, we have been clear all along that the United States does not dispute Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program.  But with that right comes responsibilities to live up to global nonproliferation norms.  And here Iran has fallen woefully short, conducting clandestine enrichment operations for years at Natanz and, more recently, at Qom.

Iran remains in breach of its International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards obligations.  Three times the UN Security Council has approved sanctions resolutions in response.

Iran's recent announcement that it will start enriching uranium to nearly 20 percent U-235 is a transparent ploy.  It has nothing to do with trying to help Iranian cancer patients who will need medical isotopes later this year since, by its own admission, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran cannot fabricate the fuel elements that work in the reactor in time to ensure uninterrupted production of the medical isotopes. 

Iran's enrichment of that material would, however, yet again flout UN Security Council resolutions - a provocative move that calls into question its nuclear intentions.

The International Atomic Energy Agency and several governments did respond positively and creatively to Tehran's initial request for assistance in refueling the Tehran Research Reactor with a fair and balanced proposal designed to meet Iran's humanitarian needs and begin to build mutual trust and confidence. 

I want to highlight that on October 1, in Geneva, Iran agreed in principle to the IAEA's proposal - to send 1200kg of low-enriched uranium from Natanz out of Iran, in order to produce the replacement fuel needed for the TRR.

A few weeks later, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei convened representatives from the United States, Russia, France, and Iran to finalize the IAEA proposal.  I had the privilege to lead the U.S. delegation to those talks and I can tell you that they were pragmatic and earnestly focused on addressing Iran's humanitarian needs, in a manner that could also start to build international confidence in Iranian intentions.

We have even offered to facilitate Iran's procurement through the world markets of the medical isotopes its citizens need. Regrettably, Iran's leaders apparently prefer to reject the most responsible, cost effective, and timely options to ensure access to medical isotopes in order to advance their nuclear program.

Iran's response to our engagement efforts has not been encouraging. And so, while the door to Iran is not closed, the President made clear last week that we are now working on developing a significant regime of sanctions that will reflect how isolated Iran is from the international community.  At this time the international community must speak with one voice on the imperative for Iran to meet its responsibilities and obligations under the NPT.

International Framework for Civil Nuclear Cooperation

Even as Iran continues down the path of nuclear defiance, many nations are increasingly turning to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as we all seek ways to meet growing electricity demand in a manner that does not increase carbon emissions.  Indeed, over 50 civil power reactors are now under construction around the world.

If nuclear energy is to fulfill its promise to help put us on the path to a low-carbon future, we must do all that we can to minimize the risk that the expansion of nuclear energy might also lead to dangerous technologies and materials falling into the wrong hands.

That is why, in Prague, President Obama called for a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, "so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation."

The United States is taking steps to build that international framework.  Last October, I traveled to Beijing for a meeting of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which includes 25 partners and 31 observer nations.

To be clear, the U.S. is no longer pursuing those aspects of GNEP that relate to the early recycling of reprocessed plutonium in commercial reactors, but we are still pursuing those aspects that seek to assure countries that they may gain reliable access to nuclear fuel services without developing their own uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.

At the Beijing meeting, the GNEP Executive Committee agreed to "explore ways to enhance the international framework for civil nuclear cooperation", noting that "cradle-to-grave nuclear fuel management could be one important element of this framework."

The idea behind cradle-to-grave is simple.  The primary proliferation concern in a civil nuclear energy program arises from the facilities used to enrich uranium and separate plutonium from used fuel. 

So if some combination of governments and companies can assure any NPT-compliant owner of a civil nuclear reactor that all of its nuclear fuel servicing needs can be met by existing suppliers without fear of disruption, then the incentives to build sensitive fuel cycle facilities would be minimized. 

There are a number of complex and challenging issues that would need to be addressed for this new framework for civil nuclear cooperation to succeed, but the year ahead should provide a number of good opportunities to discuss this with our international colleagues.  

Restarting our Domestic Nuclear Industry

In addition to our international efforts, the Department of Energy is also working hard to expand the use of nuclear energy here at home.

President Obama made clear in his State of the Union address that he is committed to restarting our domestic nuclear industry. This is a key part of our response to climate change.  But it is also clearly in our economic and security interests.  And so we are taking action on a number of fronts.

Our loan guarantee program will help secure financing for the first group of new nuclear power plants to be built in many years.  So many people in this room have been working on this challenge for years, so I am sure that you shared our satisfaction yesterday in seeing the President announce the first conditional loan guarantee for the Vogtle nuclear power station.  In addition, the President's budget this year requests an additional $36 billion in loan authority, which would triple our loan guarantee authority for nuclear. 

Clearing the path forward for nuclear energy in this country also requires a fresh examination of the technology, economic, and policy choices surrounding the question of what to do with the used fuel from commercial reactors, as well as with the high-level waste from our defense programs.

As you know, we recently announced a Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, under the distinguished co-chairmanship of Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft, which is bringing together leading experts to consider all options surrounding the back end of the fuel cycle, and to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term approach to managing the Nation's used nuclear fuel and its nuclear waste.

Science and Technology

Finally, the Department of Energy supports a robust, science-based nuclear R&D program.  For example, we're currently researching advanced reactors that would use advanced fuels, while improving safety and reliability.  These reactors could also burn down long-lived actinides. 

And we're supporting the development of small modular reactors that can be built and shipped as a single unit.  These reactors could be viable for countries with smaller electrical grids, while reducing both proliferation risks and the burdensome capital costs of larger units.

We're also evaluating new used-fuel processing methods to reduce proliferation risks.  Some ideas for reprocessing technologies show promise for enhanced energy recovery, cost reduction, waste reduction, and proliferation resistance.  We need an ambitious R & D portfolio to explore and develop these ideas.

Finally, we need to educate and train the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers.

By harnessing the power of American innovation, we can lead the nuclear industry in the 21st Century and promote nuclear energy in a manner that meets the highest standards of safety, security and nonproliferation.

Management Reform

Now I have focused my remarks so far on the challenges we face and some ambitious plans we have to tackle them.  But how is the Department of Energy going to manage it in a manner that promotes our security, energy and science goals?   That question is of keen interest to many of the people gathered here for this conference.  Indeed, many of you are already deeply engaged in that enterprise. 

It is of equal interest to those of us at the Department of Energy.  That is why the Secretary and I are strongly committed to management excellence, and to management reform.

Management reform is the right thing to do.  The challenges we face are so great, the stakes are so high, that we cannot afford anything short of our best effort.

We cannot afford to respond to every problem with a new directive, with a new layer of bureaucracy, with more red tape.

As we look ahead into a long period of tough budget decisions, we need to learn to do more with less.

As we look at foreign competitors who are embracing new energy technologies with vigor and speed, we need to move faster, but wisely.  Nowhere has this been more apparent than with the $36 billion entrusted to the Department under the Recovery Act, where the need to create jobs is urgent, but the need to invest prudently is essential.

In this, and in the loan guarantee program which is supporting so many of our critical investments in clean energy, we know that we must be faithful stewards of the taxpayer's dollar. 

How do we promote management reform?  We start from the following principles:

  • Our mission is vital and urgent.

  • Science and technology lie at the heart of our mission.

  • We will treat our people as our greatest asset. 

  • We will pursue our mission in a manner that is safe, secure, legally and ethically sound, and fiscally responsible.

  • We will manage risk in fulfilling our mission.

  • We will apply validated standards and rigorous peer review.

  • We will succeed only through teamwork and continuous improvement.

These principles apply across the entire DOE enterprise, both federal employees and contractors alike.  We are all working for the President and for the Nation, and we will only succeed by working together. 

We apply these principles to a set of goals that we develop through our strategic plan, goals that are rooted in each of our program areas:

  • To lead the world in science, technology, and engineering;

  • To build a competitive, low-carbon economy and secure America's energy future; and

  • To reduce nuclear dangers and environmental risks. 

We support these goals through an improved planning, programming, budget and evaluation process that starts from a blank sheet of paper containing only our strategic objectives.  We are now beginning the Fiscal 2012 exercise with a blue-sky discussion based on that premise, not on a marginal discussion of how to tweak existing budget numbers.

Once we have our goals, plans, and budget in place, we need to execute our programs efficiently and effectively, which requires still further management reform.

We need to attract the best talent, and give them the opportunities and training to keep them and see them grow and flourish as they work on some of the world's hardest problems.   

We need to communicate better within and across our IT platforms, at the same time that we protect sensitive information, and bring DOE's deep cyber expertise to the wider community in and out of government.

We must approach issues like worker safety and security in a way that clearly defines our objectives first, and focuses on performance and outcomes rather than a narrow compliance mentality.  

Now as anyone familiar with the history of the Department of Energy, dating back to the Manhattan Project, knows, we accomplish our mission through contracts.

So contract management must also be part of our reform.  There are many aspects to this, but allow me to mention a few things I saw at our Kansas City Plant when I visited there recently to illustrate the point.

The federal site manager and the contractor are working well together, clearly understand their respective roles and missions, apply Six Sigma management techniques, use the same data base to manage and oversee the contract, have streamlined safety directives, developed a new NNSA-wide approach to supply chain management, and achieved outstanding production results.  

But you don't have to take my word for it.  The Kansas City Plant recently received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the nation's highest Presidential honor for performance excellence.

So, there is a lot we can learn from each other and apply in different places around the complex.  We need to do that not only for contract management in general, but for project management in particular.

We have a number of multi-billion dollar capital projects, some of which have had troubled histories, so we need constant effort to improve our project management principles and practices.  We need to be sure that the objectives of the Department align with the objectives of the contractors, and that the incentives align up with both.  And that is another element of our management reform.

The final element of our management reform is monitoring our results because, as I learned from one of my mentors, "if you don't measure it, you don't manage it." 

The watchword here is transparency.  We need both the flexible IT systems and cultural norms to share information widely, in real time, so we can capitalize on our successes and correct our errors.  We need to work across the organization so we can share ideas and best practices.  We need the data to evaluate how well we are doing in achieving our goals.

But we need to remember that with this transparency comes the responsibility to use the information wisely, to empower our people to go out and do great things, to strip away extra steps that can slow us down. 

Taken together, our management reforms comprise a "Circle of Life":

  • We begin with our principles and objectives;

  • Translate them into plans, programs and budgets;

  • Support them through robust IT, a motivated and talented workforce, using performance-based approaches to safety and security;

  • Executed through best-practice contract and project management;

  • Monitored through transparent data; which

  • Feed back into evaluating our goals, where the circle starts again.


With the help of the people in this room, the companies represented here, our international partners, and the stakeholder community, and with the support of the U.S. Congress, I believe we can achieve our goals. 

And we must achieve them, for the sake of our future security and prosperity.  The challenges we face - climate change, nuclear security, our energy future - are not just the most important issues facing the Nation, they are the most important issues facing the planet.  Thank you again for inviting me to speak.