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Nations Back Four-Year Plan for Nuclear Security

By Martin Matishak

Global Security Newswire

(Apr. 14) -U.S. President Barack Obama speaks yesterday at the nuclear security summit in Washington. Participants in the conference agreed to secure the world's loose nuclear material within four years (Andrew Harrer/Getty Images). (Apr. 14) -U.S. President Barack Obama speaks yesterday at the nuclear security summit in Washington. Participants in the conference agreed to secure the world's loose nuclear material within four years (Andrew Harrer/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- Leaders and top representatives from nearly 50 nations yesterday signed off on a plan to lock down the global stocks of nuclear material within four years (see GSN, April 13).

The plan was unanimously endorsed in a document issued at the end of the Obama administration's two-day nuclear security summit in Washington.

The communique, though nonbinding, states that the nations participating in the meeting recognize the threat of nuclear terrorism and will take steps to reduce that danger and to boost security of fissile materials.

It lays out 12 specific commitments from represented states, including a promise to secure sensitive materials, particularly highly enriched uranium and plutonium; pursue comprehensive implementation of all nuclear security obligations; conduct cross-border cooperation on safeguards; and ensure that the International Atomic Energy Agency has the resources needed to perform its duties as a nonproliferation watchdog.

"We have seized the opportunity," U.S. President Barack Obama said during a press conference following the close of the summit. "Because of the steps we've taken as individual nations and as an international community, the American people will be safer and the world will be more secure."

The final document was released following what the president described as an "enormously productive day" in which world leaders and dignitaries from 47 countries held two plenary sessions and a working lunch.

"Implementation of the communique will result in focused national efforts to improve security and accounting of nuclear materials and strengthen regulations at the national level," Laura Holgate, National Security Council senior director for WMD terrorism and threat reduction, said at a post-summit briefing. "And it's important to say that this is with a special focus on highly enriched uranium and plutonium, which [are] the raw ingredients of nuclear weapons."

She added: "We would expect to see consolidation of stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and reduction in the use of highly enriched uranium. Action on the communique would increase the number of countries signing up to some of the key international treaties ... on nuclear security/nuclear terrorism, as well as add to those countries who are cooperating under mechanisms like the global initiatives to combat nuclear terrorism, building capacity for nuclear security among law enforcement, industry and technical personnel."

Obama made safeguards for all loose nuclear material a key component of his widely noted speech on nonproliferation last April in Prague. Ahead of the summit, he called nuclear terrorism the No. 1 security threat facing the United States.

Loose nuclear material typically means actual weapons, fissile material or atomic know-how from the former Soviet Union and beyond that could fall into the hands of rogue nations or nonstate actors.

Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs stated in 2007 that roughly 40 nations -- topped by Russia and the United States -- held more than 2,300 tons of separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium. That would be enough to power 200,000 nuclear weapons. More than 300 tons were in civilian hands, rather than under military control that is generally seen as providing better security.

"Just the smallest amount of plutonium -- about the size of an apple -- could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda have tried to acquire the material for a nuclear weapon, and if they ever succeeded, they would surely use it," Obama said yesterday.

Such an act, he said, "would be a catastrophe for the world -- causing extraordinary loss of life, and striking a major blow to global peace and stability."

Still, others disagreed with the administration's emphasis on loose nuclear materials and want the White House to focus more on the threat posed by countries like Iran.

"The summit's purported accomplishment is a nonbinding communique that largely restates current policy, and makes no meaningful progress in dealing with nuclear terrorism threats or the ticking clock represented by Iran's nuclear weapons program," Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

Action

The summit was hoped to spur the existing program of nuclear security activities, which to date have secured hundreds of kilograms of fissile material, heightened security at nuclear sites in the former Soviet Union and deployed radiation detection technology around the world, among other measures.

During the course of this week's session, several nations took further concrete steps to address the threat. Ukraine and Mexico pledged to join the growing list of nations that would eliminate their use of highly enriched uranium. Russia, meanwhile, announced it would close its last-operating plutonium production plant and signed an updated deal with the United States that calls for the two nations to each dispose of 34 metric tons of military plutonium (see related GSN story, today).

The United States and Canada called on nations to commit another $10 billion to extending the G-8-led Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, Obama said. That program was initiated in 2002 to provide $20 billion over 10 years for nonproliferation projects in the former Soviet Union.

Argentina this week also signed an agreement to install U.S.-supplied radiation detection technology and related equipment at the Port of Buenas Aires.

The White House released a work plan that lays out a series of further steps that nations would take in the pursuit of nuclear security. The plan emphasized strengthening existing nonproliferation measures such as the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540.

Armenia, Argentina and Australia have agreed to ratify the nuclear terror pact and Georgia recently signed the compact, according to a list of national commitments released by the White House. Other nations pledged to move toward enactment of other agreements aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism, including the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said yesterday that authorities in his nation had last month seized a small amount of enriched uranium from a gang of would-be smugglers.

"This isn't a pledging conference and it's not a context in which we're inventing big, new international institutions," Holgate said. "It's really a way to try to elevate and implement all of the good words that have been said over the last two years."

The administration expects to have the next round of experts meetings by the end of the year in Buenos Aires, according to Gary Samore, senior White House coordinator for WMD counterterrorism and arms control.

That meeting will begin to set the agenda for the second nuclear security summit, which is scheduled for 2012 in South Korea. Samore said he expects two or three more expert meetings will be scheduled over the next two years.

NTI Analysis

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