Media Briefing by Co-chair Prof Gareth Evans 

Transcript – Hanoi Hilton Opera Hotel, Hanoi, 6 April 2010

Gareth Evans: This is a very important year for determining whether we actually move towards a nuclear weapons free world or whether the international community goes back to the sleep walking we have been doing for the last decade on this critical issue.

The election of President Obama last year raised many hopes, many expectations that we would make some dramatic movements towards becoming a nuclear weapons free world.

The point of this report by the International Commission was to spell out a detailed roadmap as to how that vision could actually be achieved, in the short term - the next few years to 2012, in the medium term - the next 15 years to 2025 - and the longer term sort out after that. In fact, getting finally to a world without nuclear weapons. So our report has made a major contribution, I think, to the debate in terms of a realistic way of moving that very grand vision forward.

There are two big themes running through this report. The first one is that the threats and the risks from nuclear weapons are very real, are very serious and we can’t ignore them. There are 23,000 warheads out there at the moment, 2,000 of them still on very high alert. A risk of new countries coming into the weapons making business, a risk of terrorist non-state actors determined to get their hands on weapons or nuclear material and create havoc in major cities and also there are risks associated with the dramatic increase in civil nuclear energy if we don’t put in place appropriate security safeguards arrangements.

It is sheer luck. It is not good political leadership. It is not good systems that exist and give us safety. It is sheer luck that we have not had a major nuclear weapons catastrophe for the last 65 years since the end of the Second World War and we cannot assume that our luck will continue.

So the second theme of the report is that in meeting these threats or risks it is crucial that we do three things simultaneously: ensure serious movement towards disarmament; strengthen the measures against non-proliferation (to prevent) new players coming into the game and; that we also address the issue of peaceful uses of nuclear energy to ensure that that does not add to the risks that are out there already.

There are very many detailed recommendations in the report. They are summarised in the Vietnamese translation. That is available for you to take away but, basically, I just want to emphasise a few specific things. First of all, on the subject of disarmament what we say very strongly is that the age of double standards is over. We can no longer have the existing nuclear weapons, nuclear armed states saying they have a right to keep nuclear weapons in perpetuity and nobody else can acquire nuclear weapons. It is impossible for nuclear apartheid to be sustained.

This is a very strong message from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It is a very strong message that Vietnam has been associated with and we agree with that completely in our report.

The second point is that it is important that the non-proliferation regime be strengthened in a variety of ways. Improved inspection and monitoring arrangements. Improved disciplines to ensure that people comply with the obligations and strengthening of the (International) Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is very important that these measures be agreed on at next month’s Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and I think that Vietnam has a particularly important role to play in getting a sensible outcome here because Vietnam has a reputation as a moderate and sensible member of the NAM and it is very important that your voice be heard and that is a point that I have been making talking to Ministerial members of the Government while I’ve been here.

So I have mentioned Vietnam's important role in making the point about disarmament double standards, I’ve mentioned Vietnam’s important role at the forthcoming Review Conference in strengthening the non proliferation regime. Third point I’ll make is that in relation to the third pillar of peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy. Vietnam also has an important role, because you are one of the countries that is going to be acquiring nuclear energy capability for the first time in the period ahead and you have made it clear that you don’t want to build uranium enrichment national facilities or plutonium reprocessing facilities. You have made it clear that you don’t want to get into the business of this very sensitive and dangerous nuclear technology and that is I think a very responsible position for Vietnam to take and one that is very helpful because what we have to try and avoid is new countries that are getting into nuclear energy acquiring these national facilities that are not internationalised because those facilities have been properly described as bomb starter kits because it’s what you need to make bombs if you want to go down that particular path. I think Vietnam has taken, as I understand, a responsible position on this so that is very good for the wider world.

So let me conclude where I began by saying this year 2010 is a very import year for this whole project for a number of things that are happening this year which if they work out successfully will give new momentum and energy to this objective of a nuclear weapons free world. If they’re not successful then we are going to go backwards and two of those things, I won’t mention them all, are next week’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington which is being attended by Vietnam’s Prime Minister and just next month the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference which I’ve already mentioned Vietnam will be an important player. So if we have good outcomes for both of these conferences and several other things happen this year, we can be reasonably confident that if we don’t have good outcomes it’s going to be very very very difficult to gain momentum for change that we need so much in the years ahead.

So let me respond to your questions.

Journalist: I am from Vietnam Television (VTV). I have two questions. My first question is that last month the US State Department’s Spokesperson stated that Viet Nam had demonstrated its commitment to the responsible expansion of nuclear power through careful steps taken in cooperation with the United States and other international partners towards the development of the nuclear energy infrastructure. Could you please comment on this positive statement from the US?

Gareth Evans: Yes I think Vietnam has taken a responsible position, in particular, excuse me excuse me just let me have a [a drink of water]. I think Vietnam has taken a responsible position, particularly on the question of its acquisition of new nuclear energy facilities for peaceful power production and in particular by indicating that it is not prepared and does not want to establish uranium enrichment national facilities of its own but would rely on international mechanisms for the supply of that material. That’s an important message to send to other new countries getting into nuclear energy that it’s not necessary to have these very sensitive facilities which can cause, and create, the material that is used for nuclear weapons and as such would cause a real concern when it comes to proliferation and terrorism.

I would like to see Vietnam moving to further ratify some of the important international instruments that are relevant here, including the Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That sounds very abstract and remote, but what it’s about is the current generation of inspection and monitoring arrangements which are quite intrusive and go long way further than traditional safeguards and if countries are to seriously demonstrate their commitment to completely peaceful uses it’s important that they open themselves up for inspections this way. Vietnam has signed this AP but it has not yet ratified it and I think it would be an important further step forward. But basically it’s a good news story. Vietnam has been a responsible member of the international community. It has been very clear about supporting disarmament, very clear about supporting non-proliferation, and very clear that in acquiring new nuclear energy facilities of its own that it will be a responsible member of the international community and not create any concern for other countries of going in the wrong direction.

Journalist: My second question. Vietnam has a plan to build the first nuclear power plant in 2014. Do you think this is too short a time frame for a country like Vietnam, which lacks experiences and human resources in the nuclear power sector?

Gareth Evans: I think Vietnam is a rather sophisticated country when it comes to these kinds of projects and you should be able to do that in a relatively accelerate time frame of course. You will need strong technological support from the supplying countries and it is a matter for your decision makers on where you get that from, US or France or Korea, or these days South Korea, there are many countries out there with the capacity to build, install a complete package with proven technology and in a way that I think should give no concerns so far as safety is concerned. A lot depends of your choice of site and things of this kind. And I understand the particular site that people are talking about in central Vietnam is an area of seismic stability, when it comes to geological issues and from other points of view. It’s an appropriate location and I don’t want to comment further on these matters because this is a decision for your government. But I could be confident that within a relatively accelerated timeframe you could get a plant, the first of these plants into operation.

Journalist: I want to continue on Vietnam’s plan to build its nuclear power plants. Do you have any advice/recommendations to the Vietnamese Government to ensure the soundness of its nuclear power plants?

Gareth Evans: No only that of course you must be alert to what we call the three S’s: safety, security and safeguards. And I’m sure you are. I’m sure the govt is being very responsible about this. Safety issues speak for itself. Security, the kind of issues that will be debated in Washington next week ensuring that no unauthorised people would have access to the facilities and to be able to get hold of nuclear material for wrongful purposes and I’m sure you’re on top of that issue. On safeguards, in terms of entering into these international agreements to ensure that everyone has confidence that the plant would be used entirely for peaceful purposes. That Vietnam would not be by itself building weapons or encouraging other to do so. Again, I don’t think there are any problems there, but although in that context I repeat it would be helpful if Vietnam were to ratify the AP just to give the world some additional confidence about this. But I’m sure your govt is very conscious of all those issues. I’m not giving them any advice; these are just things we say to every government in the world.

Journalist: I have some concerns regarding the environmental impacts of future nuclear power plants in Vietnam. As you may know we have some painful lessons of industries polluting the environment. For example a foreign-invested company Vedan seriously polluted a local river for many years without any effective punishment imposed. Regarding the nuclear power, Vietnam to date does not have regulations on handling of spent radioactive fuel. Could you comment on this issue?

Gareth Evans: I mean again, this is an important issue to get right. The handling of spent fuel, what you’re going to do with it. That is a problem for every country going into the nuclear power business but again, I don’t want to indicate any solutions for this other than that I’m sure, talking as I have to senior officials in the last 24 hours that are responsible for this project. I’m sure they are very conscious of the need to get this right and get it right before the project proceeds. There are a lot of international pressure on countries to do things properly when you’re talking about safety, safeguards and security. We know that there are risks to other countries in the regions and the wider world if you don’t do it properly. So I’m sure that there will be strong focus internationally on ensuring this happens and I’m sure you all are very conscious of what needs to be done and will do it.

Journalist: My question concerns the situations in North Korea and Iran. As you now the international community has been investing lots of effort and time to persuade these two states to give up their nuclear programs. However regardless of how much pressures the international community puts on them, they have not given any indication that they would stop their nuclear program. Do you think they will one day give up their nuclear ambitions and if yes, when?

Gareth Evans: These are two very serious issues, and in the case of North Korea the task is to reverse the steps that have already been taken and to get the North Koreans to dismantle their weapon making capability. I think there is a reasonable chance that that outcome can be negotiated in the next year or two or three. The North Koreans are under very great pressure internally and externally. And I think we should not just assume that they are determined to keep their weapons in perpetuity if they can be guaranteed national security, guaranteed economic support and the regime can be confident that it will not be attacked at the leadership level. Then I think that a deal is possible with the North Koreans. So we should certainly keep focussing on it.

In the case of Iran they have not yet built or tested any nuclear weapons or explosive devices. And the task for the international community is to stop them crossing that big red line and actually acquiring weapons. I think it’s very important the door again be kept open for negotiation about achieving a result. I think there is a reasonable chance that Iran can be persuaded to stop short of actually acquiring a nuclear weapon and opening itself up to strong inspection regime internationally. It’s a very sensitive issue and delicately poised at the moment. It is important that Iran meet its obligations under Security Council resolutions and IAEA directions. It can’t expect not to be under challenge for not being helpful in this respect. But at the same time I think we should keep a cool head about Iran, and not assume that it’s determined to be a weapons state and negotiate accordingly.

Journalist: What can you say about the potential impacts of nuclear power plants on the public health?

Gareth Evans: Well there are many many, there are hundreds of nuclear power stations operating in many parts of the world with no health risks associated with them. This is all about safety and safety standards and standards are much higher these days than they were in the past. I don’t think that with the kind of technology that is now available from countries, I have already mentioned some of them. I should mention Japan as well, Japan and from the US and Korea and from France, from Russia itself. All those technologies are basically safe technologies these days and I don’t think of all the things to worry about nuclear power and nuclear weapons I don’t think that ought to be your major concern. Ask the questions by all means, be confident that you’re getting good answers by all means, but I don’t think that’s a reason in itself to worry about nuclear power. For example 80%, 80% of the middle of Europe’s energy needs are generated by nuclear power stations and it’s not a problem.

Journalist: I have two questions. First, what is your assessment of Vietnam’s role in international security affairs during its non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Second, I understand that Australia has the world’s largest uranium reserve, 23%. Does the Australian Government have any plan to assist Vietnam in the nuclear energy field?

Gareth Evans: Well on the first question, I believe Vietnam was a responsible and constructive member of the Security Council during its term there. I think you can be quite pleased with the performance and representation of the country during that period. On the question of Australia’s role, yes, we are, we do have the biggest reserves of uranium in the world and its one of the reasons why we produced this report with our Japanese colleagues because we feel we have a moral responsibility to ensure that uranium is used just for peaceful purposes. Yes there is scope for bilateral agreements between Australia and Vietnam for the supply of material and associated technology. Vietnam is a member in good standing of the NPT provided you remain so and sign the relevant, ratify the relevant safeguards agreement, I see no problem at all about entering into that relationship. I would hope that something like that can in fact be negotiated.

Gareth Evans: Ok very last questions, you all know more about Hanoi’s traffic than I do.

Journalist: Could you please elaborate the main purpose of your visit to Vietnam. Who have you met with and what were the outcomes of the discussions.

Gareth Evans: The purpose of this visit was simply to make sure that the senior Vietnamese policy makers were familiar with our report and conscious of the issues and the urgency of the issues addressed in it. The purpose was also to encourage Vietnam to play a constructive and helpful role in the NPT Review Conference. In particular, where, as you heard me say, moderate and constructive non aligned movement voices are very important because there are some voices in the non aligned movement which are not quite as moderate or constructive, and it’s important that Vietnam’s voice be heard in the way that I mentioned. On the question of peaceful pursuits and so on, again the message was a very simple one – it’s good for Vietnam to be going down the path of peaceful nuclear energy, that’s its right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the world will support it in doing so provided it meets these concerns of safety, security and safeguards. And the message in that context was that it’s a very good thing Vietnam has decided not to build a bomb starter kit, the uranium enrichment facilities and reprocessing, but to rely on international mechanisms to supply that. It’s just a matter of giving Vietnam encouragement on that front. But they were the messages. In terms of the people I met, most of all your very senior leaders are very preoccupied with ASEAN summit and travelling and the rest of it. And so I was only here for a very short time, less than 24 hours, but I did have very good meetings with Vice Minister Pham Binh Minh and Vice Minister Doan Xuan Hung who I met recently at Davos actually, in Europe, and had met previously when he was working with Foreign Minister Cam. And so, they were good meetings and also meetings last night with the atomic energy commission. So a short time, but a good visit and clear messages I hope.

Thank you very much.

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