2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting: Observing the 50th anniversary of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

November 17, 2020, 4:27PMNuclear News

The 2020 ANS Virtual Winter Meeting opened on November 16 with a plenary session moderated by ANS President Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and more than 700 people in attendance. The opening plenary session was followed by nearly 40 panel and technical sessions. Recordings of all the sessions are posted on the meeting platform and can be view by all registered attendees at any time.

Two sessions held in the afternoon of opening day were centered around the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Both sessions featured distinguished experts on the NPT to discuss its successes, challenges, future, and the role of the United States in international nonproliferation.

In focus: The first session was hosted by Susan Eisenhower, president and chairman of the Eisenhower Group, and Jim Behrens, retired senior technical advisor for the U.S. Navy at the Pentagon. The session featured 10 speakers, including past recipients of the ANS Eisenhower Medal. The session focused on honoring this year’s recipient of the Eisenhower Medal, Peter Lyons, and the 100th birthday of the honorable George Shultz.

Lyons provided recorded comments about the legacy of President Eisenhower’s vision as described in his Atoms for Peace speech, Sen. Pete Domenici’s legacy on nuclear nonproliferation policy, and the relationship between the international nuclear industry and the United States’ national security.

Atoms for Peace: Lyons began his presentation with a look at Eisenhower’s vision and the importance he placed on nuclear security. He said that Eisenhower foresaw the importance of nuclear energy to provide abundant energy to the world, but also the importance of nuclear nonproliferation. Lyons provided a quote from Eisenhower to show his view on security: “The United States pledges before you, and therefore before the world, its determination to help solve the fearful atomic dilemma—to devote its entire heart and mind to finding the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”

Domenici’s legislative legacy: Lyons continued with a discussion on Domenici’s focus on advancing nuclear power and nuclear nonproliferation. He said that Domenici recognized that both areas had to advance together. Lyons reviewed some of Domenici’s legislative work in the Senate on a number of bills on nuclear policy. He quoted from Domenici’s book, A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energy: “My vision of nuclear power . . . rests on the belief that nuclear power is now providing a safe, secure, clean, and affordable supply of energy. If it is done right, with our rigorous safety and safeguard protections, it is completely compatible with our all-important nonproliferation goals.”

International markets and national security: Lyons focused a significant portion of his talk on the deterioration of the domestic commercial industry, the increased market share of Russia and China in international markets, and its effect on our national security. He said that the United States was ceding its leadership position in nuclear technology and nonproliferation to Russia and China.

Lyons explained that it is difficult to exert leadership on the NPT if the United States is not active in the international commercial nuclear industry, and it is impossible to be active in international nuclear markets when our commercial industry is struggling.

George Shultz’s 100th birthday: Former secretary of state George Shultz provided recorded comments on the increasing changes facing policy decisions related to climate change, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing/3D printing. Former senator Sam Nunn reviewed Shultz’s “500 years' worth” of accomplishments and service to the United States.

In honor of Shultz’s birthday, Behrens announced a new scholarship for graduate students who want to focus on science and technology policy. The scholarship is available to students in the Washington, D.C., area and is now open for applications.

NPT discussion: Eisenhower then introduced Siegfried Hecker, a professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and director emeritus of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Hecker said that there are a few countries of concern regarding nuclear nonproliferation—India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran.

Hecker focused mostly on North Korea and Iran during his talk, providing some background on each country’s nuclear program. He said that North Korea entered the nuclear business with the help of the Soviet Union’s atoms for peace program, and that the program began with a research reactor built in the 1960s. Very quickly, however, the North Koreans put in place the infrastructure to build a plutonium stockpile, but with the end of the Cold War, North Korea lost its biggest supporter. North Korea is an example of how focusing only on the supply side of nonproliferation does not create a successful policy. Hecker concluded by saying that having a policy that uses both supply-side and demand-side policies is the only way to be successful in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

William Ostendorff, a former member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, provided some thoughts on how the United States can best represent the ideals of the NPT. The most important aspect of the nuclear community is the workforce,” he said, because “nuclear is different. It requires the best trained individuals in supply chain, safety, and policy.” Ostendorff agreed with others on the panel that the deterioration of the commercial nuclear industry greatly affects the human capital. That, in turn, has allowed others in the international community to take up leadership positions, he said.

Ostendorff added that there are a number of actions the United States can take to regain its leadership position, such as fully supporting international organizations in nuclear safety, security, and nonproliferation. The work of the International Atomic Energy Agency is a necessity for international nonproliferation, Ostendorff said, and the United States must fund security, safety, and nonproliferation programs and workforce development domestically.

Ostendorff discussed a number of international programs that the United States participated in some time ago. That engagement serves as a catalyst in building relationships that once established are absolutely vital in nuclear security and nonproliferation. Pursuing both paths will allow the United States to regain its position as a leader in nonproliferation.

The final speaker of the session was John Kotek, vice president of policy development and public affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute. Kotek discussed the NPT as representative of a grand bargain in that all nations voluntarily adhere to the terms of the treaty, which boils down to nations that do have weapons will work toward disarmament, and those that don’t have nuclear weapons will not pursue them.

Kotek focused his discussion on nuclear’s role in decarbonization efforts around the world. He said that in order to meet carbon-neutral goals, utilities need to keep existing nuclear power plants operating to preserve the current level of zero-carbon generation around the world. Kotek noted that many companies are now including nuclear in future resource planning as they move away from fossil fuel generation to meet these goals. This second wave of nuclear technology is important for the world, Kotek said, and it is important for our national security and nuclear nonproliferation for the United States to be the leader of this second wave of nuclear technology.

Conclusion: Overall, according to the speakers on the panel, it is clear that the United States has been losing its international leadership role in nuclear to Russia and China because of a deterioration of the domestic commercial nuclear industry. So, the need for the United States to invest in the domestic nuclear industry seems obvious. It is a matter of national security to invest in U.S. nuclear programs because without a strong domestic community, the United States cannot be a leader on the international stage.

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