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October 22, 09

NEWS / Fuel-Cycle Options Can Safely Increase Access to Nuclear Energy

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — At a time when nuclear activities by North Korea and Iran underscore the danger of weapons proliferation, the international community is increasingly looking to nuclear power as a means of addressing its energy needs and an alternative to carbon-based fuel sources, which contribute to global warming, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

Speaking October 21 at the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace, Clinton said a reinvigorated Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will better help realize the twin goals of guaranteeing that all countries have access to nuclear fuel and “the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy,” while also “providing incentives for them not to build their own enrichment or reprocessing facilities,” which could also produce nuclear weapons.

Clinton also proposed expanding fuel-cycle options, in which institutions such as fuel banks and spent fuel repositories provide and store the nuclear fuel needed for energy reactors, while keeping the material from being diverted for weapons production.

“These initiatives will encourage countries to pursue legitimate civil nuclear plans without assuming the risk and expense of constructing their own fuel-cycle facilities,” she said.


“The range and intensity of current nuclear proliferation challenges is alarming,” the secretary said, citing North Korea’s success at developing nuclear weapons and Iran’s continued efforts to acquire them in violation of its international commitments.

“We do need to continue to facilitate the legitimate peaceful use of nuclear energy,” she said, but the increased demand “has not been accompanied by corresponding measures that could reduce the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation.”

Also, “illicit states and nonstate proliferation networks are engaging in sensitive nuclear trade and circumventing laws designed to protect us against the export and import of nuclear materials,” she said. Although the United States and others have been working to deactivate or destroy thousands of weapons, “vast stocks of potentially dangerous nuclear materials remain vulnerable to theft or diversion.”

Unless the situation is reversed soon, “we will find ourselves in a world with a steadily growing number of nuclear-armed states and an increasing likelihood of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons,” Clinton warned.

It is a problem for nuclear and non-nuclear nations alike. Nuclear weapons states must work to “stop the erosion of the nonproliferation regime and to address the current crisis of compliance,” which has led countries to flout their international obligations without feeling they will be held accountable. They also have a responsibility to protect nuclear materials and technology against theft or illicit transfer, she said.

Countries without nuclear weapons need not only to forgo ambitions to acquire them and to accept nuclear safeguards, but also to actively participate in efforts to prevent other nations from obtaining them. Clinton said the nuclear threat is a shared danger. “Indeed, the non-nuclear weapon states have as much or more to lose if these weapons spread or are ever used again,” she said.

The secretary called for the strengthening of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in order to enhance its capability to verify whether countries are engaging in illicit nuclear activities. This includes persuading “key holdout states” to join IAEA’s additional protocol, which allows it to conduct aggressive, short-notice inspections of nuclear sites.

Along with existing special inspections, Clinton said, the IAEA should be allowed new authorities to “investigate suspected nuclear-weapons-related activities, even when no nuclear materials are present.”

The agency also needs more resources and greater coercive power to enforce compliance with international obligations. “We should consider adopting automatic penalties for violation of safeguards agreements — for example, suspending all international nuclear cooperation or IAEA technical cooperation projects until compliance has been restored,” she said.

To combat illicit proliferation, controls on transshipments need to be tightened and the Nuclear Suppliers Group restrictions on transferring enrichment and reprocessing technology need to be strengthened.


The Obama administration’s focus on nuclear nonproliferation stems from its acceptance of a responsibility both to prevent the use of the world’s most dangerous weapons and to hold other countries accountable for their own nuclear activities, Clinton said.

The United States and Russia are working to negotiate a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) to further reduce their nuclear arsenals and to “set the stage for even deeper cuts in the future.”

The secretary said the reduction of nuclear weapons does not negatively affect the security of the United States or its allies, and the failure to reduce such weapons “gives other countries the motivation or the excuse to pursue their own nuclear options.”

The new START agreement “will demonstrate that the United States is living up to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation to work toward nuclear disarmament,” she said, along with helping to motivate others to cooperate on nonproliferation.

The Obama administration is also conducting a “nuclear posture review,” which is assessing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security.

“We believe now is the time for a look — a fresh look — at the views on the role of the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal. We can’t afford to continue relying on recycled Cold War thinking,” she said.

The administration is also preparing to secure U.S. Senate approval for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Although the United States has observed a moratorium on nuclear testing for nearly 20 years, ratification of the CTBT will “will strengthen and reenergize the global nonproliferation regime and, in doing so, enhance our own security.” It also “sets out a global standard that we would like to be part of,” she said.

The global nuclear threat cannot be checked by the United States alone, Clinton said, but the Obama administration is “committed to seeing this through. And we believe the world is depending on our success.”


Tags: secretary of state,


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