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Remarks on Nuclear Weapons Proliferation in San Diego, California

September 25, 1976

Last May, I spoke at the United Nations on a subject of deep personal concern to me—the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world. Since that speech, much attention has focused on the non-proliferation issue, both in Congress and, rather belatedly, by a White House study group.

I am pleased by these developments, but we must not be lulled into thinking that the problem has been solved, for it decidedly has not been.

The continuing global proliferation of nuclear weapons is a dangerous and unacceptable barrier to world peace. The more countries that possess nuclear weapons, the greater the risk that nuclear warfare can erupt in local conflicts, and that these could trigger a major nuclear war. Terrorism, already a grave international threat, takes on an almost unthinkable dimension in a world where plutonium is widely available and inadequately safeguarded.

At present, only five countries—the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and the People's Republic of China—are known to possess nuclear weapons. But India has exploded a nuclear device, and many countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Pakistan, and Taiwan have taken steps toward the development of such weapons. This week Taiwan pledged not to do so.

At least 28 countries are expected to be using atomic power to meet at least some of their civilian energy needs by 1980.

And we must face the fact that any country possessing a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant can recover the plutonium needed to make an atomic bomb from the spent fuel rods of an atomic power reactor.

Our country was the world's first nuclear nation, and I believe we have an obligation to ensure that the atom is used for truly peaceful purposes. Unfortunately, over the last two years, our government has failed to provide that kind of leadership.

When we look for evidence of our purported policy of support for nonproliferation objectives, we find only the faint footprints of secret diplomacy, and official acquiescence to the nuclear industry and to the cynics who say that proliferation and widespread reprocessing are inevitable.

We have failed miserably to set an example which would encourage other countries not to seek their own nuclear facilities. We have no firm domestic policy on reprocessing or clear programs to deal with the other elements of the nuclear fuel cycle such as management and storage of radioactive waste and uranium enrichment. A court order was needed to force our own nuclear waterdog agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to begin a systematic study of the economics, the feasibility, and the international implications of developing a domestic commercial reprocessing capability.

We have failed to come to grips with the security problems which a plutonium-based economy poses, with its need for strict accounting for the plutonium produced. According to a study released in August by the General Accounting Office, our government is now unable to account for some 100,000 pounds of nuclear material, of which 6,000 pounds is weapons grade.

We have committed two-thirds of all of our federal energy research and development funds to atomic power, primarily for the liquid metal fast breeder reactor (LMFBR). Yet this potential source of energy raises serious economic and environmental problems, and will not be economically feasible until the price of uranium increases several times over.

We have failed to fulfill our decade-old commitment to place our own peaceful nuclear facilities under international safeguards.

President Ford has shown us where his priorities lie by holding legislation to strengthen U.S. non-proliferation hostage to his highly controversial proposal for private ownership and operation of nuclear fuel enrichment facilities. That he opposes even modest first steps by Congress toward nonproliferation objectives is at best a surrender to the nuclear industry and at worst, a tragic retreat from our commitment to non-proliferation. Moreover, the delay in moving ahead with enlargement of the government owned uranium enrichment facility caused by the President's proposal for private ownership has raised doubts about our own reliability as a supplier of nuclear fuel.

Over the last eight years, our government has failed to explore non-nuclear alternative energy sources, investing more than half our energy research and development budget in nuclear fission. Non-nuclear alternatives such as solar and geothermal power would not only relieve domestic pressure to increase our reliance on atomic power, but would provide other nations which have not yet opted for nuclear energy with a choice.

On the domestic front alone, the Republican record is one of which no American can be proud. But the bankruptcy of our international record is even worse.

President Ford has failed to oppose the export of plants for nuclear fuel reprocessing. When West Germany agreed to sell a reprocessing plant to Brazil, the United States did nothing. When France proposed a similar arrangement with Pakistan, Secretary Kissinger began his briefcase diplomacy only after these two countries had completed their negotiations. In 1974, when India exploded its so-called "peaceful" nuclear device, the United States made no public expression of disapproval. We have since rewarded India with additional supplies of nuclear materials.

President Ford has seriously neglected this country's obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT, an initiative of the Johnson Administration, has now been ratified by 95 non-weapons states. Under its terms, these countries have agreed not to develop nuclear weapons and to accept international safeguards on all their civilian nuclear activities. Throughout the years of Republican indifference we have done little to encourage the dozen or more non-NPT countries with active nuclear programs to join. In fact, we have given more assistance to those countries who have not signed the treaty than we have to those who have. For example, in recent hearings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on continuation of nuclear aid to India, the State Department has become that country's chief advocate and apologist, even though India, not an NPT party, used our past aid to explode a nuclear device—and even though there are no safeguards to prevent this from happening again.

The NPT provides that, in return for nuclear abstinence by non-weapons powers, the nuclear states will make efforts to halt the vertical proliferation of their own weapons. This provision is based on the recognition that we have little right to ask others to deny themselves nuclear weapons until the atomic powers show significant progress toward the control, reduction and ultimate elimination of these weapons. But we and the other superpowers continue nuclear testing, and the SALT agreements with the USSR have done little to halt the race in strategic weapons technology.

In short, the Ford Administration has only paid lip service to the NPT, and this failure of leadership could have tragic consequences for the entire world. If we will not lead the way toward peace, who will?

As I said at the United Nations last May, I do not intend to sit by quietly, and accept the timid and cynical arguments that are made about the inevitability of proliferation.

As President, I will take the following ten steps to control further nuclear proliferation:

1. I will call upon all nations to adopt a voluntary moratorium on the national sale or purchase of enrichment or reprocessing plants—a moratorium which should apply retroactively to the recent German-Brazilian and the French-Pakistan agreements.

2. I will make no new commitments for the sale of nuclear technology or fuel to countries which refuse to forego nuclear explosives, to refrain from national nuclear reprocessing, and to place their nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards.

3. I will seek to withhold authority for domestic commercial reprocessing until the need for, the economics, and the safety of this technology is clearly demonstrated. If we should ever decide to go forward with commercial reprocessing, it should be on a multinational basis.

4. I will call for an international Conference on Energy, to provide a forum in which all nations can focus on the non-proliferation issue. Such a conference must also explore non-nuclear means of meeting eneigy demands of other nations so that no state is forced into a premature commitment to atomic power.

5. I will support a strengthening of the safeguards and inspection authority of the IAEA and place all of our own peaceful domestic nuclear facilities under those safeguards.

6. I will seek to renegotiate our existing agreements as a nuclear supplier, many of which were entered into before we began insisting on reprocessing safeguards and which are now inadequate.

7. I will take steps to ensure that the U.S. is once again a reliable supplier of enriched uranium—the fuel for civilian reactors which is unsuitable for weapons—by supporting enlargement of our government-owned facility.

8. I will explore international initiatives such as multinational enrichment plants and multinational spent fuel storage areas which could provide alternatives to the establishment of enrichment or reprocessing plants on a national basis.

9. I will redirect our own energy research and development efforts to correct the disproportionate emphasis which we have placed on nuclear power at the expense of renewable energy technologies. Our emphasis on the breeder reactor must be converted into a long term, possibly multinational effort.

10. Finally, I will follow through on my belief that the United States can and should negotiate a comprehensive test ban treaty with the Soviet Union, and reduce, through the SALT talks, strategic nuclear forces and technology.

11. I will encourage the Soviet Union to join us in a total ban of all nuclear explosions for at least five years. This ban would include so-called "peaceful nuclear devices".

This is the leadership which the American people have every right to expect and to demand of their President. We must not use the difficulty of the nuclear proliferation problem as an excuse to justify timidity on the part of the United States in standing up for the goal of world peace through limitation on the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks on Nuclear Weapons Proliferation in San Diego, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347547

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