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Nuclear Security Conference 2010

April 14, 2010 - 12:00am

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The Role of the Private Sector in Securing

Nuclear Materials

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Secretary Steven Chu spoke this morning at the Nuclear Security Conference 2010: the Role of the Private Sector in Securing Nuclear Materials. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

I would like to thank the Nuclear Energy Institute for hosting this important conference on the role of the private sector in securing nuclear materials. I would also like to thank all of you for your participation today.

Your industry lies at the intersection of two of the most pressing issues of our time: the energy challenge and the threat of nuclear proliferation. President Obama understands that we cannot defer action on either of these tough problems to future generations - and that governments can't do this work alone.

In Prague last April, President Obama called for taking concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons - while maintaining the safety, security, and effectiveness of our arsenal as long as we need it. He pledged that we will work to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and called for a new international framework for civil nuclear cooperation.

He identified the risk of nuclear terrorism as the most immediate and extreme threat to global security and called for an international effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material around the world in four years.

President Obama has also recognized that, as the world moves to a low-carbon future, nuclear energy will play an indispensable role. As he said in Prague: "we must harness the power of nuclear energy to combat climate change, and to advance peace and opportunity for all people."

At home, we are reinvigorating our domestic nuclear industry, including offering an $8 billion conditional loan guarantee for what will be the first U.S. nuclear power plant to break ground in nearly three decades. If Congress responds favorably to the President's 2011 budget request, the Department of Energy will support financing for six to nine new reactors in the next few years.

Demand for electricity is growing around the world, and nations are increasingly turning to nuclear energy. Our challenge is to help nuclear power reach its full potential while ensuring that sensitive technologies and materials don't fall into the wrong hands. A terrorist or proliferation incident could have devastating consequences for societies, economies, and innocent victims. Even a failed detonation of a nuclear device would undermine public confidence in nuclear energy as a safe energy source.

The nuclear industry and governments share a strong common interest and responsibility. We must establish the highest levels of security for nuclear material during all stages of the fuel cycle and during transportation and storage.

This morning, I'd like to discuss four areas of interest to us all: the outcome of this week's Nuclear Security Summit; the important relationship between industry and government; the need to reduce proliferation risks associated with the fuel cycle; and opportunities for industry itself to further enhance nuclear security.

Outcome of the Nuclear Security Summit

The first area is the outcome of the historic Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama hosted this week. More than 40 heads of state came together to discuss the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and to agree on effective national and international measures to secure nuclear material and prevent nuclear smuggling. Participants also welcomed and joined President Obama's call to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years.

The heads of state reaffirmed the fundamental responsibility of nations to maintain effective security of all nuclear materials and nuclear facilities under their control. This includes an emphasis on robust legislative and regulatory frameworks for nuclear security.

They also agreed to promote measures to secure, account for, and consolidate highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium and to encourage the conversion of facilities from using highly enriched to low enriched uranium fuel, where technically and economically feasible.

The heads of state confirmed support for the objectives of international nuclear security instruments, including the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, as amended, and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

They reaffirmed the essential role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the international nuclear security framework and committed to ensuring it has the structure, resources, and expertise it needs.

They acknowledged the need for capacity building for nuclear security, for cooperation among nations to prevent and respond to incidents of illicit nuclear trafficking, and to share information and expertise through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms.

Relationship between Industry and Government

Finally, the heads of state recognized the continuing role of the nuclear industry in nuclear security. This brings me to my second point: the crucial partnership between industry and government in improving security of nuclear materials.

The Work Plan issued by the heads of state participating in the Summit includes three important provisions: 

  • First, participating nations will work with the nuclear industry to promote and sustain a strong nuclear security culture and corporate commitment to robust security practices, including regular exercises and performance testing of nuclear security features; 
  • Second, participating nations will facilitate exchange of best practices in nuclear security in the nuclear industry, and will utilize relevant institutions to support such exchanges; and
  • Third, participating nations will encourage nuclear operators and architecture and engineering firms to incorporate effective measures of physical protection and security culture into the planning, construction and operation of civilian nuclear facilities.

The U.S. has been working for years with international partners on improving the physical protection, control, and accounting of nuclear material around the world. Industry plays an important role in much of this work, and I'd like to briefly describe the parts of our efforts.

The U.S. Department of Energy is working at home and abroad to convert civilian research reactors from highly enriched to low enriched uranium fuel. To date, we have converted 20 out of 33 reactors in the United States and 40 reactors abroad. We have worked with others, including industry partners, to remove over 2,500 kilograms of HEU from sites around the world. We are also working with producers of medical isotopes, who are moving toward technologies that do not depend on HEU.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees the civilian uses of nuclear and radioactive material in the U.S. The NRC's regulations focus on maintaining public health and safety and common defense and security. The NRC achieves these goals by establishing nuclear security requirements and ensures compliance through inspection and enforcement.

The Department of Energy and the NRC work closely with industry on the control and accounting of nuclear material. We jointly manage an information system that has current and historical data on inventories and transactions involving special nuclear materials within the U.S. and on exports and imports of that material.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security leads a coordinating council that regularly brings federal and state government agencies together with the nuclear industry to discuss government programs, voluntary security enhancements, and industry best practices.

We are also working with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA is at the forefront of developing guidance for countries on building a strong nuclear security culture as well as legal and regulatory frameworks.

A critical part of our work is using the experience we have gained in the U.S. to promote high standards for safety, security and nonproliferation around the world. The Department of Energy works to support the development of civil nuclear power programs through our Next Generation Safeguards Initiative and other bilateral and multilateral efforts. The NRC also engages with counterpart organizations around the world. We all have a deep vested interest in having strong oversight bodies in countries that are developing nuclear power programs and in having adequate training for the world's nuclear reactor operators.

Finally, we work with non-governmental organizations. One example is the World Institute for Nuclear Security, which was established to provide an international forum for nuclear security professionals to exchange best practices. WINS has more than 250 members from 44 countries. The U.S Department of Energy has provided financial support to WINS, and I am pleased that Roger Howsley, Director of WINS, will be serving as a panelist today.

Reducing Risks Associated with the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

My third topic today is the need to reduce the proliferation risks associated with the nuclear fuel cycle.

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 primary proliferation concern in a civil nuclear energy program arises from the facilities used either to enrich uranium or to separate plutonium from used fuel. A new framework could rely on a combination of government and industry commitments to reassure states in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations that all of their nuclear fuel servicing needs can be met without fear of disruption by "cradle-to-grave" fuel services offered by the commercial marketplace.

The United States is taking steps with international colleagues to build that international framework. For example, last October, the Executive Committee of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, known as GNEP, agreed to "explore ways to enhance the international framework for civil nuclear energy cooperation," and noted that "cradle-to-grave nuclear fuel management could be one important element of this framework."

At the direction of President Obama, we recently established a Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future that will provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term approach to managing used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste in the U.S.

The Department of Energy is also exploring ways to improve the back end of the fuel cycle, including the management of used fuel. R&D investments could lead to safer, cleaner, and more cost-effective ways to access the energy value of used fuel in a manner that supports nonproliferation goals. We have refocused this research effort to integrate theory, experiment and high performance computing and modeling to explore game-changing technologies. These technologies could improve uranium utilization, produce less used nuclear fuel, and lower its long-lived actinide content.

We are also researching intrinsic design features that can be integrated into nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technologies to reduce the risks of proliferation. Mechanisms for international collaboration on fuel cycle technology could be expanded, with the goal of developing a substantially improved fuel cycle over the next 20-30 years.

There are a number of challenging issues that need to be addressed for a new framework to succeed. The year ahead will provide many opportunities to make progress with industry and with our international colleagues.

Opportunities within Industry to Enhance Nuclear Security

The final topic I want to raise with you is the ways in which industry itself can further enhance nuclear security. We hope this conference can provide a forum for a frank and thorough discussion among all of you. In particular, discussion today could focus on a number of key issues:

  • Building a strong nuclear security culture and training security managers and personnel; 
  • Ensuring responsibility for security at all levels, up to the CEO and Board of Directors; 
  • Maintaining adequate budgets for security of nuclear material; 
  • Establishing adequate systems to test the level of security on a regular basis; 
  • Pursuing innovative technologies for management of nuclear material and for preventing nuclear smuggling; 
  • Supporting oversight by government agencies of activities related to nuclear security; and
  • Developing effective ways to share best practices.

Conclusion

In closing, I want to thank you all again for being here. We are fortunate to have so many industry leaders, government officials, and non-governmental organizations gathered in one place to discuss these important issues.

Cooperation and dialogue will be essential in the years ahead - and it is essential that we succeed. Nuclear power is critical for meeting the energy and climate challenge. We need to make sure it is accessible to all countries for peaceful purposes in a manner that is safe, secure, and consistent with the nonproliferation goals we share.

This conference is an important step in that process, and I hope you have a productive discussion today.

Thank you.

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