“The Nuclear Revival has a double meaning: a revival of civil nuclear energy, and as a consequence of more enrichment and reprocessing, the possible resurrection of the nightmare once voiced by President Kennedy: a world populated with dozens of nuclear-armed countries.” – Congressman Howard L. Berman
Washington, DC – The following is Congressman Howard L. Berman’s , Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, opening statement as prepared for delivery at today’s committee hearing entitled “The Global Nuclear Revival and U.S. Nonproliferation Policy”:
For several years, it has been an article of faith that the world is experiencing a “Nuclear Renaissance” or “Revival”, a post-Chernobyl era in which civilian nuclear power is increasingly seen as the solution to energy challenges around the globe.
That faith collided with a hard reality in Japan this week. The frightening events in that country – which are still unfolding today – will undoubtedly force a re-thinking, both here and abroad, about the expansion of civil nuclear power – as well as a fundamental re-examination of the dangers that nuclear reactors must be able to withstand. The Nuclear Revival may ultimately be little more than a “Nuclear Blip.”
However, for the time being, many countries, including the United States, are interested in nuclear power, in part due to its attractiveness as a carbon-neutral energy source. Given that over 50 new reactors are under construction worldwide, it is critical that we take steps to deal with the potential nonproliferation consequences of this expansion.
More reactors require more nuclear fuel, which requires more capacity to enrich uranium. More reactors produce more nuclear waste, which means more opportunities to extract plutonium through reprocessing. Both mean more potential material for nuclear bombs.
Therein lies the danger. The Nuclear Revival has a double meaning: a revival of civil nuclear energy, and as a consequence of more enrichment and reprocessing, the possible resurrection of the nightmare once voiced by President Kennedy: a world populated with dozens of nuclear-armed countries. And to that nightmare, we can add one he didn’t forsee: the age of the Nuclear Terrorist.
Last week, I watched a very important documentary, “the Nuclear Tipping Point,” which I recommend to my colleagues and everyone viewing this hearing today. In this film, four of our most respected statesmen on national security – William Perry, who’s with us today - George Schultz, Sam Nunn, and Henry Kissinger – discuss the terrifying prospect of terrorists obtaining nuclear material for a nuclear weapon or for use in a radiological bomb.
As the film points out, the knowledge required to make a crude nuclear weapon has proliferated over the last 10 to 15 years; the material to fuel a nuclear explosive is spread all over the world; and it is clear that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda are seeking this material and wish to make weapons.
It has been estimated that there are 1,600 tons of highly-enriched uranium and 500 tons of separated plutonium in stocks worldwide. Most of these materials are in the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France, and Japan; however, about 7 tons of highly-enriched uranium, enough for some 300 nuclear weapons, resides in other countries.
The Obama Administration has made securing these stockpiles of nuclear materials a top priority. At last year’s unprecedented Nuclear Security Summit, the U.S. got agreement from over 40 heads of state for a four-year effort to secure nuclear material worldwide. So far, that has resulted in the removal of 120 kilograms of enriched uranium from other countries, and agreements to remove 220 more.
Another high priority should be negotiating a new agreement with Russia to eliminate all tactical nuclear weapons. These small but powerful weapons – of which Russia has thousands – are undoubtedly on the wish-list of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
In addition to securing nuclear materials and “loose nukes”, the nuclear nonproliferation regime must be strengthened to better address the enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of spent fuel. So far, efforts to limit the spread of these technologies have met with limited success. With Iran’s and North Korea’s development of these technologies – aided in large part by the A.Q. Khan network – they have become even more difficult to control.
That is why the recent US-UAE nuclear cooperation agreement is so important. The UAE on its own decided to forswear enrichment and reprocessing. When the U.S. asked them if they would formalize that in a legally-binding commitment within the cooperation agreement, they readily agreed. And this applies not only to nuclear fuel and equipment provided by the United States, but by any country.
A State Department spokesman has since called this the “Gold Standard” for nuclear cooperation agreements, and I agree. The U.S. should seek its equivalent for every new nuclear cooperation agreement that it negotiates in the future.
We should consider making this a statutory requirement in the Atomic Energy Act – along with a requirement that every country must adopt an Additional Protocol for safeguards, to ensure that the IAEA has all the necessary authority to investigate any and all proliferation concerns.
Finally, the Administration should use all its influence to convince the other nuclear supplier states to adopt the same nonproliferation and security conditions in their agreements that we observe in ours, especially when those same suppliers are seeking nuclear business in the United States.
I welcome our witnesses today, and look forward to their testimony. Thank you, Madame Chairman.