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Next Generation Safeguards Initiative Inaugural Conference

September 12, 2008 - 3:20pm

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Remarks as Prepared for Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman

Thank you, Ken, and all of you for that generous welcome.  It is good to see so many of you here today for this discussion of a topic I consider to be among the most important in the Energy Department's portfolio.

The U.S. Department of Energy has the responsibility for maintaining the safety and security of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.  It is a responsibility I want you to know I take very personally.

Thanks to the good work of Sen. Richard Lugar and others, we have the responsibility, through our National Nuclear Security Administration, to help other nations - especially the independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union - secure and safeguard their nuclear materials as well.

We do this for a very simple reason:  The United States is one of few nations with the resources, technical expertise and commitment to global peace and security who can and is willing to take up the job.

In just a few weeks, I will leave for Vienna to attend what will be my last International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference.  When I am there, I am going to tell them that, while we have made significant strides toward making nuclear power safe for the world, we still have a great deal of work ahead of us to make the world safe for nuclear power.

That's really what this conference is all about.

The founding of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty produced a resilient global framework for nuclear cooperation and non-proliferation.  For more than half a century, our institutions and agreements to counter proliferation have served us well.  But the world is not the same as it was when our efforts to establish these safeguards began.  Times, and technologies, have changed.

And they will continue to change.

And our efforts to combat the threat of proliferation, to maintain effective safeguards, must continue to change with them.  It is our job to make sure that the changes that occur are changes for the better.  The alternative, in the area of nuclear security, while not unthinkable, is unacceptable.

This age of global terrorism replete with proliferation fears requires us to continually expand our protections against the possibility of nuclear proliferation.  The IAEA, while at the center of the international safeguards system, cannot do the job alone.  It relies on critical support from member states like the United States and each government represented here today.

International safeguards rely on the measures each of our countries take to implement domestic safeguards and to ensure effective national controls on nuclear materials and technology.  The question for us now is not whether we can respond to concerns effectively; it is whether we can stay ahead of the game.

This conference is an important part of our effort to do just that.

Our ability to have effective safeguards depends on our ability to have continuing, meaningful research that brings new technologies and methods to light.  We must continually develop new discoveries and procedures in order to improve our ability to track nuclear materials and investigate nuclear activities.  We must never be satisfied. 

I am proud to say that many of the IAEA's safeguards technologies in use today were developed here in the United States at our network of world class Department of Energy National Laboratories.  But what works today cannot automatically be assumed to be what is needed tomorrow.

And so it is reassuring to know we have so many international partners in the non-proliferation effort, and that many of them are represented here at this conference.  I think this demonstrates the truly global nature of the non-proliferation enterprise.  And let me assure you that the United States will continue to do its part.

In 2007, President Bush committed to ensure the IAEA has the resources it needs to meets its safeguards responsibilities as the use of commerical nuclear power expands across the globe.  And I expect that my successor as Energy Secretary and his successor as President will continue to honor that commitment.

The Next Generation Safeguards Initiative, the subject of this two-day conference, is part of our effort to plan ahead and stay ahead.  It will help us reassess the existing system of international safeguards with an eye toward making them more effective and relevant to current and future challenges.

This discussion is particularly important now, as concerns about the rise in fossil fuel prices and global climate change are driving renewed interest in the use of commerical nuclear power to generate electricity, especially in the developing world.

Nuclear power is the only large-scale, cost-effective, fully-developed, readily-replicable, carbon-free system for power generation currently available.  But our concerns about proliferation require us to be cautious as we promote its expansion.

We come to this with full knowledge that not all nations will play by the rules.  And we know that the political will and the resiliency of the nonproliferation regime are what stand between peaceful and military uses of nuclear energy.

Unless we update the international safeguards system in ways that allow for the commerical use of nuclear power on a global scale, we will find it even more difficult to produce an energy secure future in line with our concerns about the global environment.

This workshop has identified three themes to be considered, themes that I consider to be central to the challenges ahead.

First, Technology:  What technologies do we have that can be improved upon?  What new technologies must we develop?  How much will they cost?  Who can best lead in what areas?  And, perhaps most importantly, how can we work together to build the technical foundations of a new system of safeguards?

Second, People:  How do we ensure we have the scientists and engineers we need to face the current challenges, let alone the future ones?  What support must we provide for basic science education to encourage non-proliferation technologies as an area of study?  How do we attract, and continue to attract, the best and the brightest minds to the fields of science and engineering?  And what tools do they require?

Third, Infrastructure:  What are the actual needs of the countries that desire commerical nuclear power for electricity generation?  What are the best technologies to meet those needs in a proliferation-resistant manner?  How many facilities will we need?  Where might they be located?  How can they best be secured?

In short, there is a lot to consider.

I invite you, here and now as well as in the future, to share ideas and experiences.  We must examine the challenges facing the international system of safeguards, build a common understanding of the successes and the threats and begin to outline steps we could take together to meet those needs.

And we must do this for a very specific reason.

This week, we mark the anniversary of what was indeed a very dark day for us all.  On September 11, 2001 members of the al-Qaida terrorist group perpetrated one of the most heinous acts of mass terrorism in world history.

They killed thousands of innocent men, women and children while effectively shutting New York and Washington down for several days.

How much worse might it have been if, instead of crashing airliners into buildings they had in their possession nuclear materials and the means to detonate them?

This is why safeguards matter.

And this meeting is the first step toward building a consensus that we hope will lead ultimately to formal agreement from your respective governments.

Each of you was invited here in your personal capacity.  We need and want a broad range of international perspectives to be included as we design the next generation of non-proliferation safeguards.

The stakes are high.  Let no one be mistaken in that regard.  The time to stop the nightmare that could result from the failure of international safeguards is before it happens, not after materials go missing.  We are looking to you to help us do that.  So I commend you for your work, for attendance and attention and for your participation here at this conference.

Thank you.

Media contact(s): Grand Hyatt Hotel, Washington, D.C.

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