Project Phoenix Workshop and Launch Event Panel – Remarks as Delivered by Ambassador Laura S.H. Holgate
Bratislava, Slovakia, Thursday, November 9, 2023
Good afternoon, everyone. I am very pleased to be here today for the Project Phoenix Workshop and Launch Event and to participate in this session. I have already learned so much today.
Last November, I attended COP 27 to join with U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and others to announce Project Phoenix. This important project, along with the rest of the FIRST program and numerous efforts across multiple US government agencies, demonstrate the priority placed by the United States on SMRs.
We are all here because we believe that to meet the challenge of climate change and achieve energy security worldwide, we need to increase deployment of nuclear energy. Advanced, clean SMR technologies play an essential role in that. In addition to electricity generation, SMRs can be used for water desalination, energy-intensive industrial processes, and hydrogen production—which other clean energy technologies cannot always provide.
My team and I engage the IAEA and Member States to advance U.S. policy and multilateral approaches in the areas of nuclear energy and the peaceful uses of nuclear technology, as well as non-proliferation, and nuclear safety, security, and safeguards. The United States is a leader fostering the innovation, creativity, and vision of the SMR and advanced reactor community.
For more than 60 years, the United States has contributed significant financial and in-kind support to help the IAEA promote peaceful nuclear applications that enhance the capacities of IAEA Member States to address key development priorities and improve the lives of people around the world.
In particular, the United States has devoted significant time and resources to support the IAEA in promoting the safe and secure use of nuclear energy, science, and technology for peaceful purposes. These technologies are indispensable tools for mitigating the impact of climate change and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In the area of nuclear power, the United States supports the IAEA’s work to help Member States that are developing or expanding nuclear power programs to build the necessary supporting infrastructure. The United States provides funding and technical experts for the IAEA’s infrastructure development activities so that emerging and expanding nuclear power programs are safe, secure, sustainable, and remain entirely peaceful.
We also host a myriad of capacity-building activities such as training courses, workshops, Nuclear Energy Management Schools, and the U.S.-Czech Intercontinental Nuclear Institute, which provides hands-on technical training to young professionals.
This year, the United States was the inaugural partner for the IAEA’s new Lise Meitner Program, which provides early- and mid-career professional women in the nuclear field with opportunities to advance their technical and managerial skills through multi-week professional exchange programs.
Programs like this are necessary for developing and maintaining the talented and diverse professional workforce that will be needed for the global expansion of nuclear power. I encourage the governments that are here today to take advantage of IAEA opportunities, such as the Lise Meitner Program and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Program, to bring more women into the nuclear workforce. The private sector can help build the workforce they need through voluntary contributions to these IAEA programs.
Last year, the United States hosted the IAEA’s Fifth International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in Washington, DC, in which over 50 Member States participated, underscoring the critical role of nuclear power in helping countries achieve climate goals.
On SMRs, I would like to stress the importance of U.S. industry engaging with the IAEA to inform Member States about their technologies and to take advantage of the IAEA’s work to support nuclear energy system assessments, safeguards and security by design, and technical safety reviews. The IAEA carries out a wide range of activities related to SMRs including the Nuclear Harmonization and Standardization Initiative, which aims to accelerate the safe and secure deployment of SMRs by harmonizing regulatory issues and standardizing items on the industry side. The IAEA created an online SMR Platform, which provides Member States with easier access to IAEA support across the Agency in important areas such as nuclear safety, security, and safeguards as related to SMRs.
Public support will be key to the successful deployment of the myriad of SMR and other advanced reactor concepts. A critical driver of the general public’s support for SMRs – indeed for all nuclear technologies – is public confidence that such technologies are safe and that the nuclear material in question is secure. To this end, the United States invests heavily in bilateral civil nuclear cooperation programs and the IAEA’s efforts to develop and enhance Member States’ capabilities to deploy the latest nuclear technology and applications in the safest and most secure means possible.
Similarly, because of the critical importance of IAEA safeguards to international security and the facilitation of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the United States provides substantial extra-budgetary funding and in-kind support to the IAEA to continually strengthen the nuclear safeguards system. As nuclear reactor technologies evolve, so too must the tools and techniques used to safeguard them, and we are committed to helping IAEA safeguards keep pace with industry advancements.
But we can’t do all this alone. We need U.S. industry at the table when the IAEA drafts the latest safety standards and security guidance. Early industry engagement with the IAEA on safeguards-by-design helps avoid costly retrofits and delays down the road and allows approaches to be optimized. If we are to pursue and market reactors as having the highest and most effective safety, security, and safeguards considerations by design, then we need industry to be present and active in Vienna.
I strongly encourage all of you here today to work closely with and learn from the IAEA experts in nuclear energy, safety, security, and safeguards. While the IAEA is commonly known as the world’s nuclear watchdog, it has an equally important role as a development agency for the peaceful uses of the atom. Most Member States come to the IAEA for its assistance and development opportunities. I urge you to become actively involved in the numerous activities in which their experts provide world-class support; seek the IAEA’s advice through its many meetings, conferences, and technical research programs; and become fluent with their many guidance documents, international standards, implementing guides, and technical guidelines.
Under the leadership of Director General Grossi, the IAEA has elevated the role of nuclear energy, particularly SMRs and other advanced reactors, in addressing climate change and sustainable development, and we should all take advantage of the opportunities this presents.
Our respective countries’ decision makers and leaders, working together in concert with the IAEA experts, can make a significant contribution to accelerate the global clean energy transition, help strengthen energy security, and mitigate climate change with flexible and reliable clean energy sources. The United States is thrilled to partner with each of your countries on Project Phoenix in furtherance of these shared goals.