Summit Demands Steps on Nuclear Terror Threat

World leaders pose for a photograph on Tuesday at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea. Participating governments called for decisive action to combat the threats of nuclear and radiological terrorism (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt).
World leaders pose for a photograph on Tuesday at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea. Participating governments called for decisive action to combat the threats of nuclear and radiological terrorism (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt).

The global community must act decisively to mitigate the potential for extremists to obtain and activate a nuclear weapon or radiological "dirty bomb," top officials from dozens of governments said on Tuesday in a communique for this week's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea (see GSN, March 26).

“Nuclear terrorism continues to be one of the most challenging threats to international security,” states the document endorsed by the two-day event's 53 state participants. “Defeating this threat requires strong national measures and international cooperation,” Agence France-Presse Presse quoted it as saying.

Every government bears the "fundamental responsibility" of protecting atomic substances and averting their acquisition by extremists, the statement says. All states should join multilateral agreements aimed at locking down fissionable assets, according to the paper, which also refers to critical functions carried out the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The document places high priority on guarding caches of highly enriched uranium, a material suitable for medical and energy as well as bomb applications. It urges countries to reduce their reliance on the substance to the lowest level possible, and welcomes official declarations by the end of next year on strategies for pursuing that end. Such plans might incorporate the modification of nuclear systems to instead consume low-enriched uranium unsuitable for fueling bombs.

Viable procedures are necessary for accounting of atomic supplies as well as determining their origin in the event of a nuclear incident, according to the communique.

Summit participants commended "substantive progress" on goals established by governments at the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit two years ago in Washington. Among such accomplishments was the elimination of 1,060 pounds of highly enriched uranium by eight nations; the HEU quantity is sufficient to fuel 19 atomic bombs, according to AFP (Agence France-Presse I/Dawn, March 27).

The communique includes few details on precise means by which governments might address the priorities it describes, Reuters reported (Nick Macfie, Reuters, March 27). The paper also excludes a preliminary version's call for "concrete steps" toward global nuclear disarmament; it instead states its authors "reaffirm our shared goals of nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” according to AFP.

Certain governments held reservations about the multilateral event potentially addressing efforts to eliminate and abolish nuclear weapons, as well as demanding "concrete steps" in support of the goals, according to one official source in the South Korean capital (Agence France-Presse I).

President Obama on Tuesday said nuclear terrorism is still a significant danger, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

"There are still too many bad actors in search of these dangerous [nuclear] materials, and these dangerous materials are still vulnerable in too many places. It would not take much, just a handful or so of these materials, to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people," Obama said (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 27).

"We all understand that no one nation can do this alone, and the goal will only be met when we work as an international community. What we did in Washington and what we do in Seoul will be part of a larger global architecture designed to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism and pursuing peaceful uses of nuclear technology," the Xinhua News Agency quoted him as saying (Xinhua News Agency I, March 27).

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak added: "Significant advances must be made in eliminating and minimizing the use of nuclear materials, including highly enriched uranium and plutonium."

Lee demanded moves aimed at "enhancing international cooperation, which is crucial in detecting, tracking and responding to illicit trafficking of nuclear material," DPA reported (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 27).

Sweden on Tuesday announced its delivery of 6.6 pounds of disused plutonium for elimination in the United States, AFP reported.

"This highly sensitive material has now, under high security ... been transferred to the United States for disposal within the framework of the U.S. Global Threat Reduction Initiative," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote in a commentary made available by the publication Dagens Nyheter (Agence France-Presse II/Nuclearpowerdaily.com, March 27).

Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Kazkah President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Monday described significant progress in an effort to remove dangerous substances from a former nuclear-weapon trial location in Kazakhstan (see GSN, May 23, 2011). Remnants previously at the Semipalatinsk Test Site were suitable for use in 12 atomic explosive devices, according to AFP.

"A significant volume of work has been accomplished by now," the leaders said. "As a result of application of modern physical and technical means the level of security at the former site has been substantially enhanced.

"This work is nearly complete and we consider it a highly successful example of the trilateral cooperation representing our shared commitment to nuclear security and nonproliferation," they said (Agence France-Presse III/Spacewar.com, March 27).

Under a separate agreement announced at the summit, French and Belgian atomic research systems would experimentally run on atomized uranium molybdenum fuel to be refined next year in South Korea and France from 220 pounds of U.S.-origin low-enriched uranium. The United States pledged to manufacture the initial material in 2012 (see GSN, Feb. 7).

"Our experts will assess the performance of the fuel and other technical aspects of this project, including the function and efficiency of the U-Mo fuel and if the result proves satisfactory, we intend to further cooperate in sharing adequate information and providing necessary assistance to countries seeking to convert reactors from HEU fuel to LEU fuel," the leaders of the participating countries said in a joint statement (White House release I, March 27).

A Mexican scientific nuclear system is now capable of using low-enriched uranium instead of highly enriched uranium as a result of an effort by Canada, Mexico and the United States, top officials from the nations stated.

"The full conversion of the reactor from the use of HEU to LEU fuel supports the goal of minimizing the use of HEU for civilian purposes. By converting its research nuclear reactor, Mexico contributes to nonproliferation," their statement adds (White House release II, March 27).

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said his country would seek to harden electricity delivery systems for its atomic equipment against man-made or natural disasters, Xinhua reported on Tuesday (see GSN, Feb. 27).

Japan would procure additional measurement gear as well as clothing and automobiles with radioactivity defenses, Noda said. He added the country would recruit more atomic site guards and refine the routines of such personnel, and it would deploy defensive features for key nuclear site components beyond the innermost reaches of such facilities.

Tokyo would maintain its coordination with governments also willing to help improve protections for nuclear and radiological substances in transit, according to Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Yutaka Yokoi.

A March 2011 earthquake and tsunami severely damaged systems at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant (Xinhua News Agency II/Crienglish.com, March 27).

A U.S.-Japanese team created in late 2010 has "successfully" pursued objectives from the first nuclear summit, in part by facilitating data exchanges related to atomic monitoring and sourcing, according to an official release (see GSN, March 23; White House release III, March 27).

China, meanwhile, has "increased its input in nuclear security, improved relevant regulations and standards system, and upgraded the level of nuclear security management," according to an official statement published by Xinhua on Tuesday (Xinhua News Agency III, March 27).

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was expected to pledge support for the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism as well as the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, the New Zealand Herald reported on Monday. Wellington has inked but not ratified the agreements (Claire Trevett, New Zealand Herald, March 26).

The amendment has gained legislative approval in another 20 nations in the wake of the 2010 summit, the Wall Street Journal reported. To take effect, the amendment must be ratified by 97 of the original 145 signatories to the 1980 pact, including the United States, according to previous reporting (see GSN, March 12). Participants at this week's event are aiming for such moves by 2014 (Ramstad/Lee, Wall Street Journal, March 27).

Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper on Tuesday said his country would provide nearly $360 million over half a decade for efforts to counter WMD dangers, Postmedia News reported (Lee Berthiaume, Postmedia News, March 27).

Chile, Poland, Morocco, Nigeria and Thailand have all organized regional discussions in support of goals established at the previous nuclear summit, according to White House official statement. The United States and South Korea have organized separate related gatherings at U.N. and IAEA offices (White House release IV, March 26).

March 27, 2012
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The global community must act decisively to mitigate the potential for extremists to obtain and activate a nuclear weapon or radiological "dirty bomb," top officials from dozens of governments said on Tuesday in a communique for this week's Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea.