Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the Bill Signing Ceremony for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978

March 10, 1978

THE PRESIDENT. During the 1976 Presidential campaign, one of the major issues that came up throughout the Nation was the subject of nonproliferation.

I think as recently as that, the world had a general impression that it was too late to control the proliferation of nuclear explosives among countries that don't presently have that capability, and at the same time ensure the proper and adequate use of atomic fuels for the production of power and for other peaceful uses.

Last April, I presented a message to Congress, who had long been working on nonproliferation legislation. And I'm very grateful today at the fine work that has been done in the House by Chairman Zablocki and by Congressmen Bingham, Findley, and others, and in the Senate by Senator Ribicoff, Percy, and Senator Glenn.

This legislation takes a major step forward in clarifying our own Nation's policy. I think it would be a much more predictable factor in the decisions made by foreign nations. It will give guidance to me, to the Congress, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and to the Department of Energy and other agencies in our Federal Government who deal with this very sensitive subject.

We've now helped to organize, with the assistance of our European allies, an International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation study. Forty nations have already joined in this study to inventory existing nuclear fuels in the form of ore, both uranium, thorium, and others, to assess the quality and capability of enrichment facilities and to deal with the proper distribution of nuclear fuels to those that don't have supplies in their own country—with international safeguards and constraints being adequate; and at the same time, to deal with the unsolved question of the disposition of spent nuclear fuels.

This is one of the most complicated questions that presents itself to the international community. I think it is accurate to say that some of our friends abroad will have to readjust their policy.

I've discussed them thoroughly with the heads of state who have been here to visit with me and whom I've gotten to know. And I think they will see the wisdom of the action that the Senate and the House have taken in this legislation.

I feel very strongly that we should continue to use, in an increasing way, atomic power in our country as a major element of energy production. Our light water nuclear plants, using enriched uranium, are adequate for the time being.

We have a very heavy research and development program going on for future production, including the liquid metal fast breeder reactors. We do not need to waste our money at this time in production models of the breeder reactor. We have one already in existence, a relatively inexpensive program using thorium.

But I believe that the Congress has taken a major step forward. And I am very grateful this morning to sign the legislation which would put into effect a clarified and an adequate American policy on the use and provision of atomic fuels to ourselves and to other countries and, at the same time, rigid constraints which would prevent the acquisition of explosive capability by nations that are not presently part of the nuclear explosive club.

So, thank you very much, all of you who helped so much in this legislation. And now I would like to sign this very important bill.

[At this point, the President signed the bill.]

Thank you very much.

Chuck, would you like to say a word?

I remember that in 1976, when I spent the night with John Glenn and his wife, this was one of the subjects that we discussed, the hope that some day we could have a nonproliferation bill passed. The first conversation I ever had with Senator Ribicoff was when he called me on the telephone to congratulate me on a speech I made at San Diego about the same subject.

John, perhaps you would like to say a word?

SENATOR GLENN. I just think this is a day that all of us have looked forward to. Some of us in the Congress have been working on this for quite some time. I know when President Carter, during the campaign, made his statements on this, I was wholeheartedly behind what he was proposing at that time.

I'm just glad to have been part of getting it through. It's a great day for all of us.



REPRESENTATIVE ZABLOCKI. Mr. President, it is gratifying to see legislation for which we labored long has become a law. It is an indication that the executive branch and the legislative branch can work together. We had great concentration on this legislation with your office.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

Chuck Percy.

SENATOR PERCY. Mr. President, this is a bipartisan effort, obviously. I think this day marks the moment when the nuclear nonproliferators take over against the nuclear salesmen. But also I think it's an assurance to the world that, given proper safeguards, we will be a reliable supplier. But we insist upon safety of humanity in taking first precedence, I think, over the sale of nuclear materials.

We thank you for your immense cooperation ever since the outset of your administration and, I might say, in the course of your campaign, which helped also.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you very much.

This has been one of the major projects of Jonathan Bingham as well.

REPRESENTATIVE BINGHAM. Thank you, Mr. President.

We are very proud of your leadership in this, Mr. President, and it has been a privilege to work with you and your associates in this matter. I would just like to say that I think the enactment into law of this legislation represents the beginning, in a way, of a task which will stretch ahead, because it is a difficult problem for you and the rest of us to exercise leadership in the rest of the world.

We hope this legislation will be a foundation for a better course to come. But it is a beginning rather than an ending, I think.

THE PRESIDENT. It goes in very well with the SALT negotiations, the comprehensive test ban, and also the legislation that I will send up, hopefully, next week, concerning the expedition of licensing for atomic powerplants in our country.

Would anyone else like to say a word? Mr. Chairman?

SENATOR SPARKMAN. Mr. President, I simply say that I endorse everything that's been said by you— [laughter] —and by these gentlemen.

I think it is a great day, and I thank you for it.

THE PRESIDENT. Anyone else? I want to thank all of you. This is a project that had been very dear to the hearts of many Members of the House and Senate long before the election took place.

But I was surprised at the intense interest among the American people in the questions-and-answer periods, and in the debates during the campaign itself.

I might hasten to say that in November of 1976—or October, I believe, President Ford also endorsed the principles set out in this bill. So, it was indeed a bipartisan effort.

Thank you all again for your foresight and, I think, courage in addressing one of the most difficult questions that our country has had to face.

By the way, we hope within the next year to have evolved a comprehensive proposal for the first time on the disposal of nuclear wastes, spent nuclear fuels.

We'll need your help and advice and counsel and cooperation in that project as well.

Thank you very much. It's a very good day for our country.

Note: The President spoke at 9:50 a.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

As enacted, H.R. 8638 is Public Law 95242, approved March 10.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the Bill Signing Ceremony for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244739

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