Principal Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Ken Baker at the 32nd Annual International Meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors in Lisbon, Portugal

Oct 12, 2010

Thank you very much. It is a great pleasure to be here at the 32nd annual RERTR Conference and to share this session with my esteemed colleagues from Portugal, the IAEA, and Russia who have done so much to advance our cooperative international efforts to minimize the use of HEU in civilian applications.

I would like to thank our hosts from Portugal, particularly Mr. Silva, for their warm welcome. We are grateful for your graciousness and hospitality, and I can assure you personally that everyone is really enjoying their stay in your beautiful country.

I would also like to thank Mr. Varjoranta from the IAEA for his opening remarks. NNSA truly appreciates our ongoing cooperation with the IAEA in so many different areas, and looks forward to continued successful cooperation for many years to come.

Today I would like to make a few brief remarks on the issue of international HEU minimization and why I believe it is critical that we, as an international community, continue to use all the resources at our disposal to advance this effort.

The threat of terrorist organizations or individuals acquiring nuclear material for use in an improvised nuclear device is very real. Numerous presidents of the United States and world leaders have declared this to be the top threat to our collective security. The reason that we are all here at this conference, and do the work we do, is to prevent this threat from becoming reality. In my opinion, this work is as important as any work there is, and I thank each and every one of you for doing your part.

The magnitude of this threat is the reason that the representatives of 47 countries, including 36 Heads of State, met in Washington last April and agreed to concrete actions that all would take to increase nuclear security around the world. This was truly a historic event. Not since the United Nations founding conference in 1945 have that many Heads of State met at the same time on U.S. soil.

Key outcomes of the Summit were a Communiqué and Work Plan in which all attendees agreed to consider converting HEU-fueled research reactors to operate with LEU where appropriate and feasible, and to collaborate to develop new technologies that require neither HEU fuels for reactor operations nor HEU targets for medical isotope production. In addition, the attendees agreed to encourage the use of LEU targets and other proliferation-resistant technologies in various commercial applications such as isotope production.

This was a powerful statement by a large group of world leaders, making it clear that minimizing the use of HEU in civilian applications is a critical component of global nuclear security and that the conversion of research reactors and medical isotope production processes are essential to effective and lasting HEU minimization. This statement, which followed a series of recent high-level statements on nuclear security such as the July 2009 Medvedev-Obama Joint Statement, reflects a rapidly growing international consensus on the importance of civilian HEU minimization to our collective safety and security.

I must say that I am extremely proud of the work we have done to date to advance international HEU minimization. The global community together has addressed over one-third (1/3) of an estimated 200 civilian research reactors eligible to convert from HEU to LEU. As you know, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) has partnered with dozens of countries worldwide, many of whom are represented at this conference, to convert research reactors to operate with LEU fuel while maintaining their ability to complete their vital mission objectives. We are breaking new ground in our cooperation with Russia to begin the needed steps to jointly address over 60 civilian research reactors in Russia.

We have also increased our support to several global producers of the medical isotope Moly-99 to assist them in transitioning to production without HEU. South Africa’s recent announcement that it is transitioning its Moly-99 production to LEU is an outstanding demonstration of progress in this area, and I congratulate our partners in South Africa on that tremendous success. However, most of the world’s supply of Moly-99 is still being produced using HEU, and it is important that all new or expanded long-term Moly-99 production is undertaken without HEU.

In addition to partnering with countries around the world, we have also accelerated efforts to minimize civilian HEU use in the United States. To date, we have converted or shutdown 20 HEU-fueled research reactors in the United States. Later in this conference, you will hear about our ongoing efforts to develop and qualify a new LEU fuel to convert the remaining reactors in the United States that cannot convert with existing fuels. Developing this new fuel is technically challenging, and is an excellent demonstration of our commitment to using LEU in the United States wherever possible.

On a more specific note, I would like to discuss our long, outstanding cooperation with Russia, which has been absolutely critical to international HEU minimization efforts. I would like to thank my friend Mr. Kamenskikh of Rosatom for his continued partnership and leadership in HEU fuel removals, and now in efforts related to reactor conversion. This year, NNSA and Rosatom will finalize the legal framework that will allow us to begin studies to determine the feasibility of converting 6 research reactors inside Russia to operate with LEU fuel. In addition, NNSA and Rosatom have made great strides this year in working with international partners to return Russian-origin HEU fresh and spent fuel to Russia. To date, NNSA and Rosatom have cooperated to repatriate over 1,300 kilograms of Russian-origin HEU, enough material for 50 nuclear weapons. Currently we are in the midst of our most intensive campaign of shipments ever. I envision a very productive future partnership between our organizations, and am thrilled that Mr. Kamenskikh has joined us at this conference.

I have remarked that the threat is very real, we have support at the highest levels to continue to pursue HEU minimization, and we have accomplished a great deal. However, I would like to conclude by emphasizing that most of the work still lies ahead of us. I therefore urge you all to continue your efforts to advance the cause of HEU minimization in your countries and at your facilities with the same dedication and vigilance that you have so far. Your work is making a difference to global nuclear security, and to the security of your countries. I thank you for that dedication and hard work, and look forward to continued productive partnerships for years to come. Thank you.