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Steven Chu

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A Safe, Secure Nuclear Future

Posted: 06/08/11 01:22 PM ET

I am in Russia meeting with business, government and scientific leaders about opportunities for partnership between our two countries. One of the most important areas where we need to work together is on nuclear power and nuclear security.

In a speech I delivered earlier today, I mentioned a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt in 1939, at the dawn of the atomic era. Einstein's letter correctly predicted that nuclear power would become "a new and important source of energy in the immediate future." But he went on to alert the President to another possibility -- less certain, but much more ominous -- that Germany was seeking to create "extremely powerful bombs of a new type," capable of destroying an entire port and some of the city that surrounds it.

More than 70 years after Einstein's letter, the fundamental challenge he outlined remains one of the most critical issues scientists and our governments must grapple with: harnessing the power of nuclear fission for peaceful and productive uses while guarding against the most horrific and destructive weapons the world has ever known.

No nation can tackle this challenge alone. We must face it together.

Russia has a proud tradition of scientific and technological achievement. Through robust cooperation today, we can bring our brightest minds together to promote the peaceful use of the atom in a manner that is safe, secure and minimizes proliferation risks.

President Obama and President Medvedev have made nuclear cooperation a priority. Our nations have agreed to broaden and deepen collaboration to strengthen security at nuclear facilities, to help prevent proliferation and acts of nuclear terrorism, and to promote safe and responsible civil nuclear energy.

The U.S.-Russia Agreement for Cooperation in the Field of Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy which recently entered into force, represents a major step forward in U.S.-Russian cooperation on civilian nuclear power. The agreement allows for stronger commercial ties, provides new opportunities to collaborate on research and development, and advances our nonproliferation and nuclear security objectives.

In addition to promoting safety, the U.S. and Russia have a special responsibility to reduce nuclear dangers. The signing and ratification of the New START Treaty was a historic moment in our relationship and an important milestone for nuclear security and nonproliferation. It built on long-standing and ongoing cooperation between our countries in these areas.

For example, together we have accelerated the return of Russian-origin Highly Enriched Uranium, including both fresh and spent fuel from other countries. Working together and with others, we have returned approximately 1,590 kilograms of HEU to Russia for final disposition -- which is equivalent to more than 60 nuclear weapons.

The U.S. and Russia have partnered to accelerate the conversion of Russian research reactors from the use of highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium. This complements ongoing international efforts that have converted 23 research reactors since 2004.

Russia and the United States have both shut down our weapons-grade plutonium production reactors -- an enormous nonproliferation achievement. Last year, Russia permanently shut down its last operating weapons-grade plutonium production reactor.

Our two countries have gone even further -- each committing to convert 34 metric tons of surplus weapons plutonium into mixed oxide fuel for civilian reactors.

Additionally, since the late 1990s, we have partnered with Russia to install radiation monitors that can detect smuggled nuclear and radiological material at Russian border crossings. Each side agreed to fund 50 percent of the total work scope of approximately 380 border sites. We are on schedule to complete all airports, seaports, and vehicle and rail crossings by the end of 2011.

Our cooperation is helping keep dangerous nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. Looking ahead, the U.S. and Russia have the opportunity to share our experience and work with other countries to promote nuclear security and to combat terrorism. Together, we can help peaceful nuclear energy realize its potential -- and grow our economies, strengthen our security and build a healthier, safer planet.