Energy leaders from Russia and America have made a "commitment to supporting the safe and secure expansion of civil nuclear energy" on the sidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency's General Conference.
Officials from the US Department of Energy and Russia's Rosatom signed what the US side called a "joint statement on strategic direction of US-Russia nuclear cooperation." US energy secretary Stephen Chu said it was a milestone for the two nuclear energy pioneers. They were long separated by their opposition during the Cold War, but now share a leading role in nuclear security and disarmament.
(Image: Dean Calma/IAEA)
Chu said in his address to the conference that nuclear energy's role grows more valuable as we confront a changing climate, increasing energy demand and a struggling economy. "At the same time, Fukushima reminds us that nuclear safety and security require continued vigilance." He noted the agreements made by Russia and the USA to reduce their weapons stockpiles and the importance of the widest possible sign-up to the framework of international conventions supporting the safe use of nuclear energy.
Russian nuclear energy chief Sergei Kiriyenko focused comments on his country's efforts to help new nations enjoy the benefits of nuclear energy. Their entrance to the field raises "questions of nuclear safety, infrastructure, creation of licensing and safety oversight and development of a clear legal framework in accordance with the requirements and recommendations of the IAEA," he said.
Kiriyenko noted Russia's cooperation towards nuclear build with Bangladesh, Belarus, Nigeria and Vietnam. "In the last year," he said, "we have proposed a new model of cooperation.. based on the principle of 'build-speak-operate'." The 'speak' component would refer to the lending of specific Russian expertise in the areas of law and regulation. This would come in addition to extensive and expanding lines of support from the IAEA. He said that "experience in this model confirms that this scheme can provide a higher level of safety and operational success."
The nuclear project in Turkey was said to be the first example of this mode of cooperation: Russia will build, own and operate a four-unit power plant at Akkuyu, supplying the state utility with electricity at a fixed price for at least 15 years. Rosatom will initially own 100% of the project and it intends to retain at least 51% in the long term.
New approaches to the fuel cycle are on the US agenda and Chu's speech highlighted the US stance, which has changed markedly since President George Bush launched the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership in 2005. Chu said America will "encourage commercial nuclear companies to join together, under appropriate laws and regulations, to provide secure, reliable access to both front and back-end fuel services to any country with nuclear reactors."
This kind of open-market assurance would lessen the perceived need for a country to develop its own suite of nuclear fuel facilities as Iran has done. Chu said Iran has a choice: "it can comply with its obligations and restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear activities, or it can face deepening isolation and international censure." He praised the IAEA board for referring the status of nuclear programs in Iran, Syria and North Korea to the UN Security Council.
Chu's statement contained a message from President Barack Obama: "The tragic events at Fukushima make clear that nuclear energy, which holds great promise for global development and as a carbon-free source of power, also brings significant challenges to our collective safety and security... We must aim for a future in which peaceful nuclear energy is not only safe, but also accessible by all nations that abide by their obligations."