Secretary Chu’s Address to the IAEA 53rd General Conference

Monday, September 14, 2009


Thank you, Madame President. Congratulations on your election as President of this Conference.

I would also like to congratulate Ambassador Amano on his appointment as Director General. I pledge my government’s full support as Ambassador Amano assumes this critical role.

I would also like to thank Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei for his quarter century of distinguished service to the IAEA and 12 years as Director General. Dr. ElBaradei’s leadership earned him and the IAEA a Nobel Peace Prize and our enduring gratitude.

It is a great honor to represent the United States at this conference, and I want to share a personal message from President Barack Obama:

“I am pleased to send my warmest greetings to all gathered at the International Atomic Energy Agency Conference.

“The United States stands with the IAEA and its member states in seeking to advance the nonproliferation, energy, and developmental goals embodied in this Agency. These goals advance the common interests of our nations and the needs of our citizens. They also define the central challenge of the nuclear age – that of using nuclear energy in ways that prevent proliferation and pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

“We know the road to elimination of nuclear weapons will be long and difficult, and can only be achieved if all nations live up to their responsibilities. But we must not defer tough problems to future generations – there are important steps that we must take to advance the common security of all people. The stakes involved are enormous. Now is the time to strengthen a durable, global regime that prevents the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states or terrorist groups; reduces the world’s nuclear weapons; and pursues a world in which nuclear power is used for peaceful purposes. For this reason, in Prague last April, I laid out a comprehensive agenda for nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, which you will hear more about later today.

“The IAEA is central to that agenda and to the establishment of new, durable frameworks for cooperation. To that end, we must ensure that the IAEA has the resources and authority it needs to verify that nuclear programs are peaceful, to facilitate access to a clean source of energy, and to improve the lives of citizens the world over – all without incurring new nuclear dangers.

“Working together, with renewed commitment and the exercise of our shared obligations, we can succeed in making real, substantive progress towards a safer, more secure, and more prosperous world. I hope you will join me and my delegation in committing to this goal and the IAEA and other institutions supporting it.

Please accept my thanks for your hard work building a better, more secure future. I wish you all the best for a successful conference.”

As President Obama expressed in his message, the United States views the IAEA as essential to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems, and to seizing one of its greatest opportunities.

By unleashing the energy that binds the nuclei of atoms, we have created a source of energy that can play an important role in helping the world decrease its carbon emissions. But the energy of nuclear reactions has also given us weapons of enormous destructive capability, so we must be vigilant in guarding against the threats of proliferation.

The IAEA has been given the daunting task of helping guide the world along this difficult path – of making nuclear power plentiful while ensuring its use is peaceful. Our common goals of nonproliferation, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and nuclear disarmament are embodied in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The NPT is the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime, and President Obama has called on all nations to strengthen it.

Today, I want to discuss four areas where the world needs the IAEA’s continued leadership.


First, the IAEA will continue to play a vital role in nuclear power’s safe and responsible expansion to combat climate change and promote economic prosperity. President Obama has called for a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation so that all countries can access peaceful nuclear power without increasing proliferation risks. This framework could build on current commercial models to provide the necessary tools and reassurance to the market so that binding and enforceable contracts can be extended to those that desire enhanced energy security. Confidence will come in the form of dependable fuel services that address the needs associated with all aspects of the commercial fuel cycle.

Around the world, used fuel management remains an important source of uncertainty for nuclear investment. We believe that the new civil nuclear framework should seek international cooperation to relieve nuclear fuel consumers of this uncertainty. It is time for governments to work together to take responsibility for managing the back end of the fuel cycle.

The United States has chosen to step back from an early decision about the final disposition of that material in a geologic repository. We are confident, however, that we can safely store that material in dry-cask storage for a sufficient period of time while we develop and deploy better alternatives. The U.S. Government will appoint a blue-ribbon commission to examine our nuclear waste strategy in light of the technical developments and knowledge gained over the last 25 years.

We will also continue to support mechanisms to reinforce the supply of nuclear fuel, including such measures as the fuel bank proposals put forward by Russia and the IAEA.

The United States has long supported efforts, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to help nations build the necessary infrastructure for safe, secure, and responsible use of nuclear energy. We applaud the Agency’s efforts in this area and will continue to be a strong supporter through funding and technical expertise.

The Department of Energy is also supporting vigorous nuclear power research, including Gen IV reactors that can burn down long-lived actinides to reduce the amount and lifetime of nuclear waste; modular reactors that can be built and shipped as a single unit and do not need re-fueling for an extended period of time; and new fuel processing methods to reduce proliferation risks.

International nuclear cooperation also depends on a robust nuclear liability regime. To strengthen that regime, I encourage all nations to ratify and bring into force the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage.

And, as a scientist, I want to say a final word on peaceful nuclear cooperation by noting the IAEA’s work to leverage the best nuclear science for purposes other than energy. By pioneering the use of nuclear technology for food, medicine, safe drinking water and more, the IAEA is improving human welfare around the world. The United States is proud to be a strong supporter of those efforts.


The second area I want to discuss is strengthening international safeguards to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

We can all take a step to grant the IAEA the authority to carry out its safeguards mission effectively. This means bringing comprehensive safeguards agreements and Additional Protocols into force to make them the accepted verification standard for the world. Earlier this year we brought into force our own Additional Protocol, and we encourage others to do the same.

Information will be the lifeblood of a strengthened safeguards system. The IAEA needs our support as it develops an information-driven approach that goes hand-in-hand with the access rights of IAEA inspections to help them uncover clandestine activities. And resources for IAEA safeguards activities must keep pace with demand.

We have undertaken a Next Generation Safeguards Initiative at the Department of Energy to meet international safeguards needs over the next 25 years and beyond. We are developing new techniques for characterizing nuclear materials, new approaches for monitoring nuclear facilities, and new tools for integrated information analysis. We are recruiting and training a new generation of safeguards experts and expanding our efforts to help other countries pursue nuclear power safely and securely. We welcome Japan’s decision to host the second international conference on Next Generation Safeguards this October.

As decades of experience have shown, countries with peaceful activities and ambitions have nothing to fear from safeguards. However, countries that violate their international obligations must face serious consequences here and at the UN Security Council. Failure to impose meaningful consequences puts at risk everything we have achieved. We can not let that happen.


The third area I’d like to discuss is how we will achieve President Obama’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons in April in Prague.

The United States has already begun taking the “concrete steps” the President outlined:

  • The United States has dramatically reduced the number of nuclear weapons in our stockpile and permanently removed more than 430 tons of fissile material from weapons use. We have blended 113 tons of U.S. highly enriched uranium into reactor fuel – enough for about 2,700 nuclear warheads. And we are building a new MOX fuel fabrication plant that will permanently and transparently eliminate at least 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium while producing enough fuel to power 1 million homes for 50 years. Once the MOX fuel has been irradiated in nuclear reactors, the plutonium is no longer readily weapons-usable.
  • We have also made progress in negotiating a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia and intend to complete this treaty this year.
  • We are actively pursuing our ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
  • And we have finally reached an agreement at the Conference on Disarmament to negotiate a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. It is time to make the gains of recent years irreversible by making them part of a global, durable, and verifiable ban on producing fissile material for weapons.


The final area I want to discuss is working together to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Because we know that terrorists such as Al Qaeda would not hesitate to use a nuclear weapon, our essential strategy must be to prevent them from acquiring or producing one. As long as there is unsecured nuclear material around the world, all of our nations are at risk.

President Obama has set an ambitious but achievable goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. The United States is accelerating its efforts, but we cannot achieve that goal on our own. We are working with Russia and other countries to ensure that all fissile material – whether from civil or military programs – is accounted for and secured against diversion or terrorist threats.

One component of this effort is the conversion of civilian research reactors away from highly-enriched uranium. Over the past twelve months, we have worked with the IAEA and its Member States to convert seven reactors to use low-enriched uranium fuel. Since 1996, we have removed enough HEU fuel for nearly 100 nuclear weapons.

In addition to eliminating nuclear material or securing it at its source, we must work together to disrupt black market networks and stop transfers of dangerous materials, including radiological sources that can be used to make “dirty bombs.” The United States has worked with the IAEA, the EU, and other partners to deploy more than 1,000 radiation detection systems at seaports, airports, border crossings, and other international transit points.

The IAEA has a critical role in keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists by promoting best practices for nuclear security and providing transparency and accountability to the world community. The work of the new World Institute for Nuclear Security will complement the IAEA’s efforts, and the Department of Energy is proud to support it as well.

To address these issues in a global forum, President Obama will host an international nuclear security summit next April in Washington, D.C. This summit will be an opportunity to reinforce commitments and advance national and international actions to secure nuclear materials and prevent nuclear terrorism.


In closing, I want to note what a critical moment this is for the IAEA and the world. The transition to a new Director General allows review of the Agency’s priorities and needs.

The United States is committed to working with the IAEA and its Member States to place the Agency on a firm foundation for the future. We will help provide the resources this Agency needs to remain a strong and effective partner in our joint efforts. And we want to help bring Agency members together to overcome lingering differences and achieve lasting progress. Together, we will keep the promise of this organization – to use atoms for peace and peace alone.

I wish you all a successful General Conference.

Secretary Steven Chu

Original at: Department of Energy