Background Briefing: Preview of High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Safety

Special Briefing
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
September 21, 2011

MODERATOR: Thank you callers for joining us today for this background briefing on tomorrow’s High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Safety at the United Nations. We are delighted to have as our briefer today [Senior State Department Official], hereafter known as Senior State Department Official.

Go ahead and start, [Senior State Department Official].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you very much, [Moderator]. Thanks for being on the call, everyone. The United States welcomed UN Secretary General Ban’s call for the High-Level Meeting, that will be conducted tomorrow, on Nuclear Security and Safety. This meeting is intended to build political support and momentum at the highest levels for international efforts to strengthen nuclear safety and security.

As you know, the international community has a lot of lessons to learn from the recent Fukushima accident in Japan, which resulted from the tragic earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan. Indeed, we’re still learning lessons from the Chernobyl disaster, which took place over 25 years ago. The most fundamental lesson for our countries is that nuclear accidents can transcend national borders and have international consequences. A nuclear accident anywhere affects all of us, and it is also important that all states do everything they can to prevent nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism because of the global implications and consequences.

Another critical lesson is the necessity of being prepared for the unexpected, especially when it comes to nuclear matters. The double disaster of an earthquake and a tsunami was hard for many to imagine. All states with nuclear power must apply the highest standards for nuclear safety. And the United States wants to set the gold standard for nuclear safety and, frankly, that should be the goal of every state. It’s everyone’s responsibility to own-- of each country’s own regulatory body to ensure that its nuclear facilities meet the highest standards of safety.

The United States remains committed to nuclear power as an important component of our energy (inaudible) as well as the world’s. We cannot take nuclear energy off the table, but it must be safe and secure, which is why the United States continues to reaffirm the importance of strengthening the IAEA.

This meeting will welcome the IAEA action on nuclear safety, which calls for states to request voluntary peer reviews on a regular basis to facilitate transparency and improve standards of nuclear safety. The meeting also highlights the importance of nuclear safety and compliments the Nuclear Security Summit that will be hosted next year by South Korea. The South Korea summit is a follow-on to the Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama hosted in April 2010.

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about the High-Level Meeting tomorrow.

MODERATOR: Great. Before we jump into the questions, just to tell callers that [Senior State Department Official] is on a train, so we are hoping that the line holds. And if you hear funky noise in the background, that’s what it’s about.

Tanya, why don’t you go ahead.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press * then 1. To withdraw your question, press * then 2. Once again, to ask a question, please press * then 1. One moment, please, for the first question.

Once again, to ask a question, please press * than 1. One moment please. We do have a question from Bill Freebairn. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Thanks for holding the call. I was wondering whether the U.S. is going to push or press for additional measures that go, perhaps, beyond what the IAEA is saying about sort of voluntary peer reviews and suggest something a little more mandatory and/or support strengthening of a emergency response capacity, which IAEA has also talked about.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. The United States has always been a strong supporter of the IAEA’s peer review programs, both in conducting regular missions in the United States and also urging other countries to do the same. And we always send our senior experts, many of them in leadership capacities, to represent the United States on missions in other countries.

Establishing a mandatory requirement for member-states to submit to regular IAEA peer reviews would require the negotiation of a binding international agreement among member-states that most likely would take several years to come to fruition and no guarantee that all member-states would join in. And that’s why we settled on the voluntary peer review part of this. We are very much open to exploring longer term approaches that could including legally binding requirements, but in the meantime, we believe that these are important voluntary peer reviews that can happen and that will add to the data and the knowledge that we have and the kind of cooperation that we think we need to have.

Bill, your second question was?

QUESTION: It was on the emergency response capacity. IAEA is talking about regional centers, possibly for emergency response. So how does the U.S. support that, and do they see the IAEA as the right organization to coordinate this?

MODERATOR: [Senior State Department Official], are you still on the line? I wonder if we have lost her.

OPERATOR: I show her line as still connected.


MODERATOR: Hi. Did you hear the question, [Senior State Department Official]? Do you need it again?


MODERATOR: Okay. Go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I dropped off, I’m now back.

MODERATOR: Okay. Good.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The – after Fukushima, President Obama ordered a comprehensive safety review of all 104 active power plants in the United States – almost a quarter of all nuclear reactors operating around the world. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already completed its near term inspections, and we believe that it’s important that because you cannot take nuclear energy off the table, we must be able to assert that these plants are safe and secure, which is why the United States continues to reaffirm the importance of strengthening the IAEA. And we also are looking forward to welcoming the IAEA action plan on nuclear safety in this meeting tomorrow, which calls for states to request voluntary peer reviews on a regular basis to facilitate transparency and improve standards of nuclear safety.

QUESTION: Yeah. But on the emergency response capability, there’s been talk about IAEA taking a strong role in putting together regional centers that could respond quickly--


QUESTION: -- to an emergency.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. And we are looking for the opportunity to support these efforts. We think that the regional approach is a smart one because it provides for the fastest response and gives regions a sense of empowerment, and we look forward to making sure that we can support these issues and hearing more about them tomorrow.

QUESTION: Thank you.


OPERATOR: Once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press * then 1. At this time we have no further questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and thank you, [Senior State Department Official].

PRN: 2011/1557