U.S. Statement on Reliable Access to Nuclear Fuel
IAEA Board of Governors Meeting March 2-6, 2009
Madame Chairwoman, Ambassador Gregory L Schulte
U.S. Permanent Representative to the IAEA
With each Board meeting, we learn of even greater global interest in nuclear power. Though individual motivations vary, one common factor driving this interest is the quest for energy security. Realizing the full benefits of nuclear power requires that we all have reliable access to nuclear fuel. For these reasons, President Obama has called for the establishment of “a new international nuclear energy architecture – including an international nuclear fuel bank, international nuclear fuel cycle centers, and reliable fuel supply assurances – to meet growing demands for nuclear power without contributing to proliferation.” On Monday our Director General also said, “remains convinced that a multilateral approach has great potential to facilitate the expanded safe and secure use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, while reducing the risk of proliferation.”
We are finally nearing closure on two concepts, and the associated funding, that would provide fuel assurances. After so much effort, the time has come to bring these to reality.
The nuclear power sector is blessed with a reliable, dynamic, and well functioning market. Around the world today, more than 400 reactors are supplied through sound, long-term contracts with a diverse set of vendors. Still, as we have come to learn recently even with the most stable markets, the possibility remains for unforeseen interruptions. Therefore, we believe that as responsible suppliers and recipients of nuclear power it would be wise to bolster the international fuel market against unexpected disruptions.
Likewise, the Director General has recognized this fact, and called on us – the IAEA Member States – to devise new mechanisms to ensure reliable access to nuclear fuel. In response, many in this room have developed one or more fuel assurance proposals. Two of those proposals are now nearing realization.
Here in Vienna – more than two years ago – the Nuclear Threat Initiative announced a pledge of 50 million U.S. dollars for an international nuclear fuel bank. As you know, this challenge grant was made upon two conditions, which must both be met by the upcoming General Conference in September. Generous pledges by Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and the European Union as well as support from my own government have come in response to the NTI offer. Total contributions from member states of 100 million dollars will meet the first condition.
With support from member states, a total of 150 million dollars would be available to the IAEA, provided the second condition is met – the Board of Governors must approve an institutional framework for the fuel bank. As we all know, the details surrounding this initiative are complex, and deserve our considered discussion. Now that the funding goal is close to being met, we look forward to the Director General bringing forward a concrete concept for our consideration at the next Board meeting in June.
As we also have just heard from the Russian Governor about their proposal, for a reserve of low-enriched uranium to be held at Angarsk in Russia, is also nearing fruition. We thank the Russian Federation for sharing this news with Member States today and we read with great interest the concept paper GOV/INF/2009/1. We look forward to further in-depth consultations among all Member States and the IAEA Secretariat on future steps. We strongly support Russia’s call to bring the “the proposal as outlined … to the Board of Governors for its consideration as soon as possible.”
I am pleased to report that the United States continues to make progress on yet another component to support this endeavor. Three years ago, we announced that 17.4 tons of highly enriched uranium would be turned into a low-enriched uranium fuel reserve. To date, over 3 tons of HEU has been down-blended and more than 50 tons of LEU fuel has been produced. Once an operational framework is in place, this material could also be drawn upon for last resort assurance.
The concept of IAEA involvement in nuclear fuel assurances is not new. It is clearly authorized under Article IX of the IAEA Statute.
In 2003, the Director General of this Agency brought this issue back to the fore in his essay “Towards a Safer World.” Since then, the IAEA has overseen an expert group study and issued a substantive framework report. Member States have put forward more than 12 proposals, and a number of international conferences have been convened. What’s more, several multilateral bodies have established working groups to explore mutually acceptable solutions.
Over the past four years, we have all put a great amount of time and effort into this venture. The Director General reiterated earlier this week his view “that a multilateral approach has great potential to facilitate the expanded safe and secure use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, while reducing the risk of proliferation.” Along with many others, we hope to see a tangible product emerge before the current era of Agency leadership draws to a close.
In conclusion, the appetite for a fuel assurance mechanism is clear, the need is growing, the resources are in place and the time is right to bring this concept to life.
Therefore, we encourage opening a discussion amongst us on the technical, legal, and other issues involved. Two concepts and the associated funding are nearing fruition. Let us bring one or both of these concepts to the Board in June and see whether we can start to establish an international, mechanism that advances our common interest in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.