Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham Addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Nonproliferation Efforts

November 5, 2003

Thank you. It's a tremendous honor to be here this afternoon.

I value the opportunity to discuss our ongoing nonproliferation efforts before this august body at a time when the international community is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dwight D. Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" vision, which he unveiled right here at the United Nations.

A central feature of that vision - eliminating the threats posed by the spread of dangerous nuclear materials - is to be commended. It is one we share.

One indication of the seriousness we bring to these issues can be seen in the Department of Energy's budget for nonproliferation programs.

When the Bush Administration took office in 2001, my Department's budget for this work was about $850 million. Two years later, the President's FY '04 request for DOE's nonproliferation programs has increased by more than half, and is now nearly $1.3 billion.

That money is being well spent. We are enjoying concrete results. This is in large part due to the exemplary cooperation the United States enjoys from Russia's Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev, and I am pleased that we can be here together for this joint appearance.

For two years, we have worked closely together to reduce proliferation threats by personally overseeing the implementation of critical bilateral cooperative nonproliferation programs. Minister Rumyantsev holds a deep commitment to reducing such threats, and he has been instrumental in helping to accelerate timetables for completing many key efforts. I know he is as proud as I am of the progress that we have made.

If I may speak for Minister Rumyantsev, allow me to say that our nations are committed to this progress because we believe in the Nonproliferation Treaty. We both take seriously our responsibilities and commitments under Article VI.

Today I'd like to begin with a review of the concrete steps our nations have taken on that front.

Our commitment is exemplified by the Moscow Treaty, which will require about a two-thirds decrease in each nation's strategic nuclear warheads - to between 1700 and 2200 - by 2012. This represents a major disarmament achievement and a true sign of the strengthened U.S.-Russia strategic partnership.

Working together, we have taken steps to end the production of weapons-usable fissile material; to dispose of excess defense material - including that removed from dismantled nuclear weapons; and to redirect nuclear resources in Russia and elsewhere toward peaceful, commercial applications.

Our efforts enhance transparency and cooperation, and, I think, help to establish a basis for a mutually beneficial, more secure bilateral relationship that virtually assures that the nuclear arms race becomes a relic of the past.

In 1997, we entered into the bilateral Plutonium Production Reactor Agreement with Russia that codified the shutdown of 14 U.S. plutonium production reactors, along with 10 such reactors in Russia.

Further progress on this agreement was made just last March, when Minister Rumyantsev and I signed an important implementing agreement that will lead to the shutdown of the last three reactors in Russia that are still producing weapons-grade plutonium.

We are continuing to take steps to dispose of some 700 tons of fissile material declared in excess of defense needs - including a significant amount of material removed from nuclear weapons. This effort directly contributes to the irreversibility of the nuclear arms reduction process.

More than 170 tons of Russia's HEU has been converted to non-weapons grade material for use in American commercial reactors. Altogether, 500 metric tons of Russia's HEU will be converted and used to support civilian nuclear power.

And let me emphasize, the vast majority of the 700 metric tons of excess fissile material is subject to verification or to transparency measures pursuant to U.S.-Russian negotiated arrangements.

We are also committed to creating a stockpile in the United States of low-enriched uranium derived from Russian HEU, further reducing HEU inventories. This stockpile will be used to augment our strategic uranium reserve to enhance our domestic energy security.

Additionally, allow me to mention the unilateral steps that the United States has taken in this regard. The United States has not produced fissile material for nuclear weapons for more than a decade.

The United States has identified 174 tons of excess HEU that will be blended down and used for civil purposes. To date, over 40 metric tons have been downblended and like Russia, we remain committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium.

The United States has also placed 12 more tons of excess fissile material under IAEA safeguards.

To date, the quantities of excess fissile material removed from the military stockpiles of both nations and slated for disposition are equivalent to eliminating, irreversibly, enough material for well over 30,000 nuclear weapons.

And we will continue to look for ways to increase the amount of excess material that could be eliminated.

All of these efforts mark real progress toward nuclear disarmament.

I cite these examples because I think it is important that you know the depths of our commitment to nonproliferation, and to the NPT itself.

I believe the NPT and the organization that is most associated with it, the International Atomic Energy Agency, are properly the center of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Because the treaty is so important, it is critical that the international community be constantly vigilant and prepared to deal with threats to it. We must take every measure possible to ensure nothing is allowed to erode its power and weaken it, or to weaken the IAEA.

But the fact is, today's efforts to counter the spread of dangerous nuclear materials face serious challenges from those seeking such materials for potentially evil purposes.

Illicit efforts to acquire nuclear and radiological weapons technologies and materials continue to be reported at alarming rates. There are real reasons for concern.

Another very real concern, one that truly tests our sincere nonproliferation efforts, is that the way the NPT is structured provides a framework in which a state may acquire many of those assets needed to develop nuclear weapons capability … all the while proclaiming peaceful intentions and posturing as a member in good standing of the NPT … and then break away from the treaty, renounce its safeguards, and utilize these capabilities to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Our special challenge, then, will be to find ways to build on the nonproliferation successes of the past and overcome the challenges of the present, so that our ability to enjoy the benefits of peaceful nuclear cooperation can be expanded and sustained well into the future.

I think this challenge needs to be addressed on three specific fronts.

The First Front is to take concrete, achievable steps that enhance and improve traditional nonproliferation measures.

A few weeks ago at the IAEA's General Conference in Vienna, I laid out practical steps we can implement to strengthen the nonproliferation regime and to help secure its long-term viability.

These steps include:

strengthening safeguards, for example, through widespread adoption of the Additional Protocol;

strengthening roadblocks to trafficking in nuclear and radiological materials and technologies for weapons purposes; and

strengthening the security of research reactors or other such facilities where nuclear and non-nuclear radiological material may be located.

Progress is being made in each of these areas. I am hopeful that Senate hearings on the United States Additional Protocol will take place in the next few months, and we urge all nations to sign and implement their own Additional Protocols with the IAEA.

Dozens of countries have expressed their support for the objectives of the Proliferation Security Initiative, which President Bush proposed in Poland last May, to interdict traffic worldwide in weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems, and related materials. Several interdiction training exercises have been held, and we anticipate additional activities in which PSI countries can participate in the near future.

Strengthening the security of research and test reactors where nuclear or radiological materials may be found, goes to the heart of President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace message. It is part of a legitimate and effective strategy for ensuring that the peaceful applications of nuclear technology can continue to be enjoyed by all responsible nations - so long as all such states take steps to strengthen nonproliferation norms.

Such facilities support important medical and industrial research, and other legitimate peaceful applications of nuclear technology.

They are also potential targets for sabotage, theft or attack. So we must ensure that potential security threats associated with these facilities are reduced.

In Romania, to cite one example, the United States will provide up to $4 million to support the purchase of low-enriched uranium for a research reactor located there. This will help with plans to convert that reactor to use low enriched fuel, instead of HEU. This is key to reducing the reactor's attractiveness to terrorists or other threats, even as the reactor will continue to be used for peaceful purposes.

This operation exemplifies ways to reduce security risks at these sites, without sacrificing the peaceful benefits of nuclear technology. It is a model for what must be done, and on an urgent basis.

I am also pleased to announce a follow on to the international conference the Department of Energy conducted earlier this year with Russia and the IAEA on the threat posed by radiological dispersal devices.

My Department recently established a special high-level task force that will focus its attention on reducing potential threats from high-risk radiological sources, including those that may be found at research and test reactors.

At the conference we held last March, Russia, the IAEA, and my Department spelled out the issues that most needed to be addressed by the international community, particularly efforts to detect and interdict illicit trafficking in high-risk radioactive sources.

Our new task force has already begun several cooperative activities with the IAEA and its member states to secure radiological materials worldwide. I am confident these efforts will help focus our resources and cooperation on reducing the global threat of RDDs.

The Second Front requires addressing the fundamental challenges to the nonproliferation regime.

Events of recent years - particularly in the cases of North Korea and Iran - call into question the very ideas we have drawn upon in deciding how to contain the nuclear threat.

The nonproliferation regime's weaknesses become woefully apparent when a state joins the NPT, professes peaceful intentions, and then abuses the Treaty by using it as a cover to build up a nuclear weapons capability which it then publicly declares through abrogation of or withdrawal from the Treaty.

North Korea has been in violation of the NPT since 1993. Yet there has been no concrete progress over the last decade toward remedying that violation. To the contrary, we know that North Korea was able to continue to make progress on its nuclear weapons program during this period, namely by pursuing a covert uranium enrichment program.

North Korea's activities send a worrisome message to other would-be proliferants - but the responsible nations of the international community must send an even stronger message. We must learn from this chain of events, and not allow it to happen again.

With respect to Iran, we welcome the efforts of the UK, French, and German foreign ministers to obtain full compliance with that nation's IAEA and NPT requirements. The decision Iran announced to sign and implement the Additional Protocol, to cooperate fully, and to suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities is a positive step in the right direction.

If Iran carries out the obligations it has undertaken - especially if it abandons its enrichment and reprocessing activities - it will show what can be achieved when the international community sends the same firm message on the need to comply with nonproliferation requirements.

We must be vigilant to see that this promise is fully kept. That means to ensure:

That there is full declaration of all imported material and components related to uranium enrichment;

That there is unrestricted access, including environmental sampling, for the IAEA to locations the IAEA requires;

That all questions regarding uranium enrichment centrifuge testing are resolved;

That complete information on uranium conversion experiments is divulged; and that

Iran provides such other information, explanations, or action that the IAEA deems necessary.

We must do this for the evident reasons, of course.

But we must do it for other reasons, as well, that go beyond the immediate question of Iran. For how the international community responds to such challenges - whether in North Korea or Iran today or somewhere else tomorrow - will significantly affect how well the nonproliferation regime survives and flourishes over the next fifty years.

The Third Front requires us to reconceptualize underlying security relationships for the long term.

No states should be able to pursue nuclear weapons under the guise of pursuing so-called "legitimate" nuclear programs for peaceful purposes. Hence we need to tighten constraints that prevent the acquisition of materials and supplies that could contribute to nuclear weapons programs. And we must insist upon strong enforcement of international controls when such programs come to light.

There are two steps we must take.

First, we must reinforce the nuclear proliferation risks posed by the acquisition of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. Possession of these capacities in the hands of states with questionable commitments to the NPT should automatically raise a warning sign and should be discouraged.

Second, we must strengthen IAEA safeguards against - or consider stronger steps to discourage - indigenous enrichment or reprocessing that could support illegitimate and proscribed activities. While the Additional Protocol will help, we need to think of further ways to address this problem. We should look for ways to ensure that the IAEA has the tools it needs to effectively address the problem posed by a state like North Korea, before such a State announces it has established a nuclear weapons capability.

We also may need to think about new approaches to the fuel cycle that strictly limit the use of enrichment and reprocessing and access to nuclear weapons technology … while ensuring that nuclear medicine, agriculture, energy supplies, and other critical benefits can be enjoyed in all responsible nations.

In short, we need to think about how to ensure that the essential "bargain" between nuclear and non-nuclear states - a bargain central to advancing the underlying principles of Atoms for Peace - can be sustained into the future.

Let me be clear. We are dedicated to the Nonproliferation Treaty, and to its central aims and goals.

And because of this commitment, we desire to strengthen the NPT in every instance to ensure that those aims and goals can be achieved.

So we want to buttress the NPT's underlying obligations, while making them relevant to today's security environment. And we sincerely hope the international community will focus its attention on this important problem in the months ahead.

Once again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to brief you on our Administration's views on nonproliferation, and the actions we are taking to implement our own commitments. More importantly, thank you for your partnership in the global efforts that are essential to reducing the threats posed by the spread of dangerous nuclear materials.

We face serious but not insurmountable challenges. We can meet and overcome the challenges, but only if we act with resolve.

By working closely together, I am confident we will move ever closer to fulfilling the hopeful, peaceful vision President Eisenhower spelled out 50 years ago.

Thank you.