Steven Chu: an international fuel bank can ensure peaceful use of nuclear energy

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu discusses his proposals to encourage the peaceful use of nuclear power at this year's International Atomic Energy Agency gathering in Vienna.

Every year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog arm of the UN, gathers ministers from around the world to discuss ways to promote nuclear energy, strengthen efforts to keep other countries from illegally acquiring nuclear weapons, reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists. This year in Vienna, I am promoting the idea of an international “fuel bank” to encourage the peaceful use of nuclear power.

A new framework

In his April 2009 speech in Prague, President Obama called for building “a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation” so that the international community can access nuclear material for civilian power use without increasing the risks of proliferation. He continued: “That must be the right of every nation that renounces nuclear weapons, especially developing countries embarking on peaceful programs. And no approach will succeed if it’s based on the denial of rights to nations that play by the rules.”

A strong and efficient market for nuclear fuel is vital to securing carbon-free energy on a global basis. The United States continues to support expanded and reliable access to fuel supplies – working through the commercial marketplace – for peaceful nuclear programs.

When it comes to security, President Obama has made clear that the United States will “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” This April, the United States and Russia signed a landmark New START Treaty that reduces our deployed nuclear warheads by one-third and our strategic delivery vehicles by one-half, while establishing a comprehensive monitoring regime and a pathway to further reductions in the future. We are working now toward its ratification by the US Senate.

For our part, the US is working to reduce our own reliance on nuclear weapons and to lock down dangerous nuclear material so terrorists can’t use it to attack a city in the United States or anywhere in the world. President Obama has called for securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. In April, 47 world leaders plus representatives from the IAEA, the European Union, and the United Nations met in Washington for an unprecedented Nuclear Security Summit. The attendees pledged to pursue the highest levels of nuclear security and affirmed that “strong nuclear security measures are the most effective means to prevent terrorists, criminals or other unauthorized actors from acquiring nuclear materials.”

Consequences for violators

Unfortunately, there are some countries that are not adhering to their international nuclear nonproliferation commitments. When there are violations, there must be real and timely consequences.

A recent report from the IAEA earlier this month outlined how Iran refuses to cooperate fully with the IAEA and to defy IAEA Board of Governors and UN Security Council resolutions. Iran’s stance represents a challenge to the rules that all countries must adhere to.

While we continue to acknowledge Iran’s right to pursue peaceful civilian nuclear power and remain committed to pursuing a diplomatic solution, Iran must do what it has thus far failed to do – meet its obligations and ensure the rest of the world of the peaceful nature of its intentions. Otherwise, it is clear that there is a broad and growing international consensus that will hold Iran accountable if it continues its defiance.

Given the importance of nuclear energy for both the U.S. and the global community, it is critical we continue to work in cooperation with the international community to tackle these weighty challenges, to keep the American people safe and promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy. That is the message the US is delivering in Vienna.

Steven Chu, awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, is the US secretary of energy.

© 2010 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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