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Engel Opening Statement on Civilian Nuclear Cooperation

- As Delivered – Click Here for Video -

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a Committee hearing on civilian nuclear cooperation:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this very timely hearing. I want to thank the witnesses for their testimony and I look forward to their answering our questions. This is interplay, obviously, between two crucial issues: the fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the increasing global cooperation on civilian nuclear energy.

“We face a challenge today, a challenging question: how can we achieve our nonproliferation goals while commercial nuclear energy technology is now readily available in the global marketplace?

“In recent years, the U.S. has selectively pursued the so-called “Gold Standard” – a legally binding pledge by countries receiving U.S. civilian nuclear technology that they will not pursue a domestic enrichment or reprocessing capability. This provision was included in the nuclear cooperation agreement with the UAE.  

“But France and Russia, our main competitors in the global market for civilian nuclear technology, do not require “no-enrichment” stipulations from their customers.  Countries that purchase technology from these nations are free to operate enrichment facilities that might be used to produce low- or medium-enriched uranium for power plants or research reactors.  But this technology, obviously, could also produce weapons-grade material. 

“The United States now faces some difficult choices.  We want to prevent the further spread of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing technologies.  But if we continue to insist on “no-enrichment” requirements, other governments are more likely to look to France or Russia to supply essentially the same nuclear technology.  So it’s a lose-lose scenario: American companies won’t get the projects, and the U.S. government will have far less visibility into the nuclear programs of other nations.

“The stakes are enormous. Today, 434 civilian nuclear power reactors are operating in 29 countries, 73 are under construction, 172 reactors are on order or planned, and 309 more have been proposed—and these figures don’t include the hundreds of reactors for research, medical isotope production, or other civilian applications.

“The United States cannot be left on the sidelines as more countries enter the nuclear marketplace.  In a perfect world, I would want all of our nuclear cooperation agreements to include the Gold Standard.  But in practice, such a policy could isolate the U.S. and give a clear advantage to our competitors.  We’re dealing with a paradox: to continue fighting nuclear proliferation, we need to be flexible in negotiating our civilian nuclear cooperation agreements.

“This approach is reflected in the nuclear cooperation agreement with Vietnam, which I support.  That agreement stipulates that Vietnam will purchase nuclear fuel from the commercial market, but it does not include a formal commitment to forgo enrichment or reprocessing in the future. 

“So I hope in our questions to our distinguished panel, they can help us work through the policy dilemmas of nuclear cooperation, and I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing.”

 

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