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Remarks of Deputy Secretary Poneman at the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy

March 8, 2010 - 12:38pm

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Paris, France - Today, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman addressed the plenary session at the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy in Paris, France. His remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

On behalf of the President of the United States, I would like to thank President Sarkozy for hosting this important conference.

Nuclear energy has a vital role to play in our low-carbon future. President Obama has said that “we must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change, and to advance peace and opportunity for all people.” Domestically, the United States is working to reinvigorate our nuclear industry. At the same time, we are working with our international colleagues, including many here today, to ensure that all countries can access nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in a manner that minimizes proliferation risks.

President Obama recently called for building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in the United States. To turn that vision into a reality, we recently announced conditional commitments for over $8 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear reactors in the United States. President Obama’s budget this year requests an additional $36 billion in loan authority, which would triple our loan guarantee authority for nuclear energy.

Additionally, Secretary Chu, at the direction of President Obama, recently established a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. The Commission will consider all options surrounding the back end of the fuel cycle and will provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term approach to managing used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste in the U.S.

Finally, the U.S Department of Energy is implementing a robust, science-based nuclear R&D program to help develop the next generation of nuclear technologies. In that spirit, we welcome President Sarkozy’s call this morning to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers, who will be critical to our collective nuclear future.

Our efforts to reinvigorate the U.S. domestic nuclear industry go hand-in-hand with our efforts in the international arena. Many nations are increasingly turning to nuclear energy as a low-carbon means of meeting growing electricity demand. 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 assure that the expansion of nuclear energy does not lead to sensitive technologies and materials falling into the wrong hands.

President Obama has called for a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation to ensure that countries have access to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes while minimizing the risks of proliferation.

The United States is taking steps with international colleagues 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. 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.”

Such a 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 by the commercial marketplace without fear of disruption. In that connection, we welcome Secretary General Gurria’s comments on nuclear liability and urge all governments to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage to permit companies to work worldwide to promote nuclear energy with appropriate legal protection.

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. Efforts to build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation must be coupled closely with our efforts to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime and ensure a successful outcome of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May. We strongly encourage the peaceful use of nuclear energy and will encourage endorsement of measures to facilitate the fullest access to such peaceful uses in the final decisions of the Review Conference.

We must also find other ways to keep nuclear materials out of harm’s way, recognizing that a terrorist or proliferation incident involving nuclear material could have devastating consequences for countless innocent victims, while undermining public confidence in nuclear energy as a carbon-free source of electricity. To address the issue of nuclear terrorism in an international forum, President Obama will host a Nuclear Security Summit next month in Washington, D.C., to develop a common understanding of the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and foster agreement on effective measures to secure nuclear material and prevent nuclear smuggling.

Finally, as interest in nuclear power increases, so does the importance of understanding the wide array of technologies and services available to meet a country’s energy needs responsibly, cleanly, and economically. As part of this effort, U.S. nuclear companies, with world-class technology, service, and experience, stand ready to contribute to the growth of civil nuclear power worldwide in a manner that meets the highest international standards.

The U.S. looks forward to working with the international community and with industry on moving toward a low-carbon future, with nuclear power playing an important role in a manner that is safe, secure, and consistent with the nonproliferation goals that we all share.

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