South Korea to Display New Anti-Nuclear Terrorism Technology at Summit

South Korea on Wednesday said it would use this month's high-profile Nuclear Security Summit to show off indigenously developed technology aimed at curbing the threat of nuclear terrorism, the Korea Times reported (see GSNMarch 15).

“We will showcase at the summit a nuclear technology that only South Korea possesses,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said to the newspaper. “The homegrown technology will make it possible for reactors working with highly enriched uranium (HEU) to generate the same level of performance with low-enriched uranium.”

Nonproliferation advocates hope that more nations will agree to reduce their civilian usage of nuclear weapon-usable HEU stocks if they are assured they can obtain equal efficiencies from LEU materials. Uranium enriched to high levels can be used both as fuel in atomic power plants and to build nuclear weapons.

The upcoming March 26-27 summit in Seoul is anticipated to include a focus on reducing the use of HEU material in participating nations' nonmilitary sectors. The aim of such efforts is to make it more difficult for violent extremists or other rogue entities to acquire material they could use to produce a nuclear weapon.

Additional nations are also expected to conduct usability trials of the new system, according to Kim. "I strongly believe that the technology will largely contribute to reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism," he said.

At least 10 countries are expected at the summit to pledge to remove all HEU material and plutonium from their territories, according to previous reporting.

A summit-ending joint statement would also spell out other concrete actions toward meeting the goal of a "four-year lockdown" of all vulnerable atomic substances, Kim said. Additionally, the summit is expected to see more nations agree to ink or ratify international nuclear security accords and to make monetary pledges to the International Atomic Energy Agency's Nuclear Security Fund (Park Si-soo, Korea Times, March 15).

In a Thursday commentary in the New York Times, ex-U.S. envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog Kenneth Brill and Partnership for Global Security President Kenneth Luongo noted that a minimum of four extremist organizations, including al-Qaeda, are known to be interested in acquiring nuclear weapons.

"These groups operate in or near states with histories of questionable nuclear security practices. Terrorists do not need to steal a nuclear weapon. It is quite possible to make an improvised nuclear device from highly enriched uranium or plutonium being used for civilian purposes. And there is a black market in such material," the nonproliferation advocates noted (see GSN, Jan. 12).

The actual use of a nuclear weapon by terrorists could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths, billions of dollars in destruction, and severe damage to the global economy, they said. "Surely after such an event, global leaders would produce a strong global system to ensure nuclear security. There is no reason to wait for a catastrophe to build such a system."

Current international anti-nuclear terrorism efforts that encompass U.N. Security Council resolutions, IAEA efforts and nonproliferation programming through the Group of Eight states do not together form a comprehensive package, according to Brill and Luongo.

"There are no globally agreed standards for effectively securing nuclear material," they pointed out. "There is no obligation to follow voluntary standards that do exist and no institution, not even the IAEA, with a mandate to evaluate nuclear security performance."

The issue experts added: "The world cannot afford to wait for the patchwork of nuclear security arrangements to fail before they are strengthened."

They called for a new international convention that "would commit states to an effective standard of nuclear security practices, incorporate relevant existing international arrangements, and give the IAEA the mandate to support nuclear security by evaluating whether states are meeting their nuclear security obligations and providing assistance to those states that need help in doing so" (Brill/Luongo, New York Times, March 15).

March 16, 2012

South Korea on Wednesday said it would use this month's high-profile Nuclear Security Summit to show off indigenously developed technology aimed at curbing the threat of nuclear terrorism, the Korea Times reported.