Casey Chairs Hearing on Nuclear Nonproliferation

Casey chairs his first full committee hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today chaired a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on nuclear nonproliferation.  The hearing featured testimony from the executive branch, legislative branch, and nonproliferation experts.

“To the extent that states like North Korea and Iran succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons, and unstable regimes like Pakistan continue to expand existing nuclear arsenals, the threat that a nuclear weapon will one day explode in an American city will only continue to grow,” said Casey.  “For this reason, we must renew our efforts to reinforce the nuclear nonproliferation regime and prevent additional states from acquiring the deadliest weapons known to humanity.”

This is the first time that Senator Casey has chaired a full standing committee hearing and a rare opportunity for a freshman Senator. He also chaired a Joint Economic Committee hearing on pre-kindergarten education in June.

At today’s hearing entitled, Safeguarding the Atom: Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation Challenges, Senator Casey heard testimony from U.S. Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN); Dr. Andrew Semmel, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy and Negotiations; Henry Sokolski, Executive Director for Nonproliferation Policy Education Center; Dr. Fred McGoldrick, Former Director of Nonproliferation and Export Policy with the Department of State; and Dr. Lawrence Scheinman, Distinguished Professor at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies Monterey Institute of International Affairs. 

Included are Senator Casey’s remarks as prepared: 
Opening Statement of

U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing 
Safeguarding The Atom:
   Nuclear Energy
   And Nonproliferation Challenges

Today, the Foreign Relations Committee will examine policy options that can help strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime and prevent the nightmarish scenario of a nuclear weapon exploding in an American city.  To the extent that states like North Korea and Iran succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons, and unstable regimes like Pakistan continue to expand existing nuclear arsenals, that threat will only continue to grow.  For this reason, we must renew our efforts to reinforce the nuclear nonproliferation regime and prevent additional states from acquiring the deadliest weapons known to humanity.

I want to thank Chairman Biden for graciously offering me the opportunity to chair today’s hearing in his absence.  I know that nuclear nonproliferation is an issue to which he has dedicated much time and energy over his distinguished career as a U.S. Senator.  The Chairman has prepared a formal statement, which I ask be entered into the record.

President John F. Kennedy predicted in March 1963 a world where fifteen or twenty states would acquire nuclear weapons.  President Kennedy’s frightening vision has not come to pass – and for that, we largely have the nuclear nonproliferation regime to thank.  This regime, embodied by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which entered into force in 1970, has done a remarkable job in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.  Beyond the original five nuclear weapons states recognized by the NPT, only four additional states are known to have developed and tested nuclear weapons during the intervening 37 years.  That is not a perfect record, but given the fears of President Kennedy, it speaks to the durability and effectiveness of the NPT. 

However, the nonproliferation regime today faces a set of grave challenges that call its future into question.  Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program, carried out in secrecy over the past two decades and maintained today in defiance of United Nations resolutions, represents the most serious test.  Iran claims that it is pursuing a nuclear program for exclusively peaceful purposes in order to establish a source of civilian nuclear power.  Iran cites Article IV of the Treaty to defend its civilian program, contending that this Article protects the “inalienable right” of Iran to pursue a civilian nuclear program.  Nonetheless, the very expertise and technology Iran requires to develop a civilian nuclear program, including a complete nuclear fuel cycle, is what it would need to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon.  Iran, or some other state in the future, can accrue all of the benefits of Treaty membership while assembling the building blocks of a nuclear weapons program.  If Iran succeeds in acquiring a nuclear weapon through the guise of a civilian program, it will set a dangerous example for others to follow.

For that reason, nonproliferation experts are taking a fresh look at the concept of assured fuel supply mechanisms.  A commercial nuclear program, by itself, does not give a state the means to develop the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon.  Rather, what is of concern is the construction of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities – the so-called “fuel cycle” – to generate nuclear fuel to power nuclear reactors.  If we can conceive an approach that allows states to acquire nuclear fuel at prevailing market prices from trusted and reliable outside sources, they would no longer need to build and maintain costly fuel cycle facilities – the same facilities that can serve as the basis for a weapons program.  A non-nuclear weapons state that insisted on doing so would immediately raise suspicions over its real intentions and give warning to the international community.

At the same time, the Iran experience demonstrates to all of us the sustained value of rigorous international safeguards in deterring and detecting illicit nuclear weapons programs.  What we know today about Iran’s nuclear program is largely due to the diligent and painstaking work of the International Atomic Energy Agency undertaken since 2002.  The IAEA has gained access to Iranian facilities, interviewed Iranian officials, and published detailed reports on the progress and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts – providing the international community with an invaluable perspective on Iran’s program.   Nonetheless, the IAEA’s budget and staff is under great pressure as it seeks to keep pace with a growing number of civilian nuclear facilities worldwide. 

The Ranking Member on this Committee, Senator Lugar, along with Senator Bayh, have introduced legislation to give the President the authority to establish bilateral and multilateral fuel supply mechanisms and authorize appropriations to fortify the capability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to implement nuclear safeguards.  Their bill is a promising one and I look forward today to learning more about it. 

The nuclear nonproliferation regime today is in trouble not only due to the challenges I have outlined above, but also, frankly, due to the wrong-headed policies pursued by this Administration.   Beginning with its unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2001, the Administration has shown a blatant disregard for the diplomacy and multilateral cooperation so essential to a strong nonproliferation regime.  In my opinion, the United States missed a golden opportunity in 2005 to use the NPT Review Conference as a forum to begin a serious dialogue with other nations on how we can revitalize the regime to address the new challenges posed by Iran and others.  The Administration has not helped matters by explicitly adopting a double standard when it comes to nuclear weapons states, encouraging and assisting those we deem our friends at the same time we are condemning others.  Finally, by focusing excessively on regime change instead of change in behavior, the United States stood by as North Korea quadrupled the size of its fissile material stockpile and tested a nuclear weapon, only coming to a belated recognition that diplomacy was the only solution with a chance of working.

We will hear from a distinguished – and extremely knowledgeable – group of witnesses this morning.  Senator Bayh will first address the Committee to discuss the reasoning behind the legislation that he and the Ranking Member have introduced to give a jump start to assured fuel supply mechanisms and strengthened nuclear safeguards.  The Committee welcomes Senator Bayh and looks forward to his remarks.

Next, we will hear from the Executive Branch.   Dr. Andrew Semmel, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy and Negotiations, will provide the Administration’s perspective on how the United States can further strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime and the role that fuel supply mechanisms and enhanced safeguards can play in that process.  Dr. Semmel has served in the State Department since 2003.  I understand that Dr. Semmel is no stranger to this Committee; from 1985 to 2001, he served as a senior staffer to Senator Lugar for foreign policy issues. 

Our final panel will include three experts on nuclear nonproliferation who have all served in various positions in the U.S. government, but now serve in private capacities.  I will introduce those witnesses when we come to that panel, but I look forward to their seasoned perspectives. 

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