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Presented at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies - Nuclear Security in the 21st Century

December 08, 2005

Presented at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies - Nuclear Security in the 21st Century
Presented by Linton F. Brooks, Administrator, NNSA December 8, 2005

Thank you. I’m very pleased to be here at the Jaffee Center and to have this opportunity to visit Israel. Your organization has made many important contributions to scholarship and debate on timely and strategic issues including the topic that I will focus my remarks on today: nuclear security in the 21st century.

I want to set the stage for my discussion with a brief comment about the nuclear dilemma we face. On the one hand, growing demand for clean energy will make nuclear power a more and more attractive option for an increasing number of states. On the other hand, the growth of peaceful nuclear programs and instances in which civilian nuclear programs were used as a cover for weapons-related pursuits increases the risk that terrorists will have greater access to nuclear material, technology, and weapons expertise.

Addressing these risks before existing proliferation dangers get worse or new nuclear energy programs surface is a top U.S. national security priority. In many ways, this is a “back to the future” problem. Forty or fifty years ago, inexpensive nuclear power generating electricity “too cheap to meter” was forecast as the answer to the expanding world energy demand.

However, the forecast for nuclear energy to become the global panacea failed to materialize. But, today, as global demand for energy resources grows exponentially, nuclear power may be on the brink of a global renaissance.

Around the world, 120 nuclear reactors are being planned or are under construction, particularly in developing countries. The U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates global energy requirements will grow by as much as 50 percent in the next 20 years, with half of that growth in demand coming from the world’s emerging economies. Nuclear power is likely to play a significant role in providing a clean, affordable, safe, and reliable energy alternative.

However, we all understand the vulnerability of peaceful nuclear programs to diversion or illicit transfer. As Dr. Ernst David Bergmann noted, “by developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes you reach the nuclear option; there are no two atomic energies.” We must, nevertheless, do all we can to maintain separation between using atomic energy for peaceful purposes and the so-called ‘nuclear option’, and I believe we have already made important gains. But the questions remains whether the system of controls rooted in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), IAEA safeguards and export controls, and threat reduction work with Russia and others are adequate.

Nuclear weapons materials, technology, know-how and capability may be within the reach of more nations today, and, by extension, more terrorists, than at any time in our history. If nuclear energy is to achieve the dramatic growth that many observers envision, what additional steps are necessary to secure the atom? What more can be done to protect nuclear assets against theft or sabotage? What improvements to the international nonproliferation regime are required? How can the fuel cycle be more secure from misuse? I’ll touch on these questions in the balance of my talk.

For the United States, our approach to nuclear security begins at home. After the September 11th attacks, we undertook a plan to revise our security procedures. 9/11 taught us that large-scale attacks were possible and that terrorists would be willing to die to inflict massive damage.

We are now in the process of tightening our own domestic regulatory controls and improving our security posture to address the new types of terrorist threats we face today. We are also consolidating special nuclear materials spread across the U.S. nuclear complex to reduce operational and security costs, and, at the same time, improving our security overall.
We take this matter very seriously. Even if the risk of attack can be assigned a low probability, the potential consequences are so serious as to demand the highest priority and attention. Of course, the risk of nuclear terror is by no means limited to the United States. For this reason, we need willing partners in our nonproliferation and security efforts.

Our approach to nuclear security at home forms the basis of our global efforts. Our international work is concentrated most heavily in Eurasia, where a sizeable nuclear legacy is dispersed across the former Soviet Union. Security work in this region remains a first order priority for the United States. I’m happy to report that substantial progress has been made over the last decade, progress given a further boost by Presidents Bush and Putin as a result of their Bratislava meeting last February.
At Bratislava, the U.S. and Russian Presidents agreed to accelerate nuclear security cooperation, but, perhaps more important, they agreed to ensure our cooperation is given the highest political attention in both countries. Let me offer a few highlights of the results of U.S.-Russia nonproliferation cooperation.

Some of our more significant accomplishments have been in the area of nuclear material protection, control and accounting. Since this effort started more than ten years ago, we have worked with Russia to secure more than 75 percent of its nuclear sites storing or using many hundreds of tons of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. Our aim is to finish all such security upgrades in Russia by 2008.

We are also making solid progress to eliminate weapons-grade materials in Russia. Many of you know that the United States has an agreement to eliminate 500 metric tons of Russia’s highly enriched uranium by converting it to low enriched uranium for use as commercial nuclear fuel. This is an enormously successful program – a genuine “swords to ploughshares” effort. This converted uranium fuels half of all U.S. nuclear reactors today. Like Russia, the United States has also removed huge quantities of highly enriched uranium from its weapons stockpile, and substantial portions of this material are being down-blended to low enriched uranium under IAEA verification.

The Secretary of Energy, Samuel W. Bodman, recently announced the removal of 200 metric tons of highly enriched uranium from the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The Department of Energy will dispose of about 160 metric tons of this highly enriched uranium for use in naval ship power propulsion, postponing the need for construction of a new uranium high-enrichment facility for at least 50 years. About 20 metric tons will be down-blended to low enriched uranium for eventual use in civilian nuclear power reactors, research reactors or related research. Down-blending this material will eliminate its potential usefulness to terrorists. Approximately 20 metric tons will be reserved for other programs that currently use highly enriched uranium, pending the development of fuels that would enable the conversion to low enriched uranium fuel cores. This project represents the largest amount of special nuclear material to be removed from the stockpile in the history of the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

Progress is also underway to eliminate excess stockpiles of military plutonium. This includes a landmark agreement between the U.S. and Russia to dispose of 68 metric tons of military plutonium – 34 tons from each of the U.S. and Russian military programs – in commercial reactors, as well as another agreement to shut down permanently Russia’s three remaining weapons-grade plutonium production reactors. The urgently-needed heat and electricity provided by these reactors located in Seversk and Zheleznogorsk will be replaced with energy from fossil fuel plants.

Indeed, the elimination and consolidation of nuclear materials is one of the most important actions to reduce the threat of global nuclear terrorism, and we have expanded the reach of several of our key programs in this regard. Last year, my Department launched the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), a program designed to secure or remove vulnerable, high-risk nuclear or radiological materials anywhere in the world and to minimize or eliminate civilian use of highly enriched uranium. Because most of these at-risk materials are of Russian or U.S.-origin, we have established programs in both countries to ensure the repatriation of fresh and spent highly enriched uranium fuel. We are also working with countries around the globe to convert the remaining highly enriched uranium reactor cores to a low enriched uranium substitute, which provides both an incentive and an opportunity to return highly enriched uranium to both the U.S. and Russia for safe disposition.

GTRI has scored a number of very important recent successes over a short period of time, including the return to Russia of vulnerable stores of highly enriched uranium in Libya, Romania, Uzbekistan, Latvia, and the Czech Republic. In addition, GTRI just completed its first conversion of a Russian-supplied research reactor – a major milestone for our reactor conversion program.

Another area of the overall U.S nonproliferation effort addresses the human aspect of the global nuclear threat by engaging nuclear scientists and technicians with critical knowledge. I mentioned a moment ago our efforts to shut down Russian reactors in Seversk and Zheleznogorsk. NNSA is engaged in both of those cities to ensure that displaced, skilled nuclear workers are not tempted to find employment in other locations working on projects that pose a greater threat to world peace. We have also focused significant attention on the Russian closed cities that house weapon and missile design institutes. These scientist engagement programs – which, as I understand it, mimic your own practice of incubating technologies for possible commercial development – have successfully redirected thousands of Russian, Ukrainian and other WMD scientists and technicians to peaceful, civilian employment. We hope to expand this effort to Iraq and Libya. Nuclear materials and other exports must also be reliably controlled. Here, too, we have made great strides with Russia by placing radiation detection systems at key strategic transit points and by training hundreds of Russian personnel at nuclear institutes and business enterprises on export control requirements.

Our nuclear security agenda necessarily entails cooperative efforts well beyond Russia’s borders. All countries have a role to play in stemming the wave of proliferation. Facilitating a cooperative partnership with China, a rapidly emerging global power with nuclear weapons, a sprawling nuclear complex and a strong appetite for nuclear energy, is another U.S. priority.
Just over a month ago, I traveled to Beijing to inaugurate a technology demonstration for nuclear materials accountability and physical protection. With our Chinese partners, we equipped a Chinese nuclear facility with modern systems for protecting, controlling, and monitoring nuclear material.

This multi-year project was just a first step in what we hope and anticipate will evolve into a strong U.S.-China nonproliferation partnership focused on nuclear materials security. Our goal is to work with China in the coming years to replicate these practices throughout its civilian nuclear sector. Combined with export control exchanges and an agreement to outfit a leading Chinese port with radiation detection capability, we’re off to a good start. I am quite optimistic about the future for nuclear security cooperation with this essential U.S. partner.

The U.S. and Israel have been cooperating on several nonproliferation efforts. Yesterday, Director Rona and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding to install radiation detection equipment here in Israel. This is part of the larger U.S. “Megaports” program aimed at detecting and interdicting trafficking in nuclear or radiological materials. This cooperation will improve the security of Israel and its vital nodes of trade and transport as well as prevent the international transfer of sensitive materials.

This Megaports project is the latest example of fruitful cooperation between the United States and Israel under the Letter of Intent (LOI) signed by NNSA and the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. From export control exchanges, to regional seismology projects involving Israeli and Arab scientists, to consequence management in the event of radiological terrorism, the LOI has proven to be a useful instrument for the exchange of information, experience, and best practices. We certainly value this cooperation and look forward to continued success.

Our international cooperation is based on the idea that the responsibility to implement laws, policies, and programs rests with national governments. This is the basis for UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which set an international obligation for all UN members to prevent proliferation by enacting strict export controls and securing at-risk materials.

Events of the last decade – brought into stark relief by the Iranian and Libyan nuclear programs – also demonstrate that enhancements to the international nonproliferation regime are urgently needed. The NPT is now 35 years old, and we have seen Iran and North Korea abuse the peaceful nuclear “rights” asserted in Article IV of the NPT to assemble all of the elements necessary for a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Both countries violated the NPT to access critical technologies for the production of fissile material and configured their nuclear programs in a manner suited for weapons, not power. While Article IV does not provide a “right” to nuclear technology for weapons purposes, action is clearly needed to curb the spread of fuel cycle technologies.

President Bush put forward a proposal in February 2004 to prevent the further spread of enrichment and reprocessing facilities and technologies -- capabilities not required for states to enjoy the benefits of nuclear energy. And, as we have seen from the A.Q. Khan experience, enrichment and reprocessing technologies are far too dangerous to spread further and unconstrained. The United States is working with its G-8 and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) partners to curtail transfers of these technologies. For the past two years the G-8 leaders have agreed to refrain from new initiatives involving transfer of enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology to additional states, and we are continuing to work on a longer-term measure.

We are also working in the NSG to make the Additional Protocol a new condition for peaceful nuclear trade. We now have uncovered several cases, beginning most prominently with Iraq in 1991, of countries cheating on the safeguards system. The Additional Protocol was negotiated precisely to guard against such future cheating, but it only works if countries ratify and implement it. By conditioning nuclear supply on the Additional Protocol, more countries will make this important commitment to the safeguards system.

The second aspect of the President’s nonproliferation proposals that I wish to discuss here is further strengthening IAEA safeguards. Based on the history of Iran’s clandestine nuclear procurement, President Bush called for the establishment of a new IAEA committee to assess options for enhancing safeguards and improving compliance with the NPT. A Committee on Safeguards and Verification has been established by the IAEA Board of Governors, and we look forward to working with members, including our colleagues here in Israel, to assess and remedy safeguards deficiencies – whether technological, analytical, or political.

The case of Iran is instructive here. Iran has pursued a systematic effort over two decades to hide secret nuclear activities, including undeclared uranium enrichment, undeclared plutonium separation, and other safeguard breaches using undeclared nuclear materials at undeclared facilities. Although Iran claims its program is for nuclear power, Russia has offered Iran a lifetime supply for Iran’s only nuclear power plant under construction. Iran has no economic or energy need for a fuel cycle, nor does Iran have enough domestic uranium reserves to support its nuclear power plans. Iran’s nuclear activities make sense, however, in the context of a nuclear weapons program. We continue to call upon Iran to abide by all of the terms of the September 24 IAEA Board Resolution, including the suspension of all enrichment-related activities, and return to the negotiating process with the EU-3.

But, the lessons for the future are clear. Unless steps are taken to close gaps in the NPT system, unless we ensure that the “wedge” between the two atomic energies remains strong, we will undoubtedly face another Iran-type situation at some point down the road.

And so, let me finish where I began – on the prospective nuclear energy renaissance. We can all see a new nuclear energy era and expanding global markets for nuclear power, new plant designs, and innovative fuel cycle technologies. But, we must also recognize the proliferation risks inherent in such rebirth of interest in nuclear power, particularly if such expansion provides greater, not lesser, access to the types of materials and technologies used in nuclear weapons. At least three conditions must be met if nuclear power is to expand safely and securely.

First, proliferation resistance must be built into future fuel cycle technologies. At the Department of Energy, we are conducting research and development on future technologies for spent fuel recycling – technologies that do not produce separated plutonium – and fast reactors that “burn,” rather than produce, plutonium.

Second, as called for by President Bush, nuclear suppliers should agree not to transfer enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states not already in possession of full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants. The commercial market should be able to satisfy the future demand for fuel services, even if more aggressive projections for global nuclear energy expansion are realized.

Third, new arrangements must be created to assure states that nuclear fuel will be reliably supplied and available as an incentive to forego enrichment and reprocessing. To that end, the United States has been working with the IAEA and major fuel suppliers to institute a mechanism that would provide a safety net in the event of disruptions in commercial supply.
The U.S. has taken the initial step of setting aside 17 metric tons of highly enriched uranium from our military stockpile that will be converted to low enriched uranium and held as a reserve to support fuel supply assurances. We are encouraging others to establish similar reserves. We will also examine concepts for the leasing, return and storage of spent fuel to alleviate cost, security, and safeguards burdens on recipient states.

This is an ambitious agenda, and one that is sure to generate a difficult debate in my country and elsewhere. However, it’s not one we can or should avoid. Unless bold, new steps are taken to strengthen nonproliferation – to build proliferation resistance into the fuel cycle – and to deprive untrustworthy states the means for acquiring nuclear weapon materials, we can confidently predict that proliferation dangers will grow worse, and opportunities for terrorists to exploit weak national controls to acquire the means for destruction will multiply.

That’s not a future we can tolerate. Fortunately, the vast majority of states share this view. I know that Israel does as well, and we look forward to continuing our cooperation with your government as progress is made to advance nuclear security in the new century.

Tel Aviv, Israel