Nuclear Confab to Urge 'Minimized' Stocks of Bomb-Usable Plutonium

A draft statement for global leaders attending this week's nuclear summit includes a promise to maintain only "minimum" stocks of weapon-usable plutonium.

A January version of the Nuclear Security Summit 2014 communique, which is to go for approval before all 53 nations participating in the two-day Hague event, would for the first time urge participating countries to work on limiting their civilian stocks of plutonium, Foreign Policy reports.

The not-yet-issued statement also urges worldwide reductions in weapons-grade uranium. Either substance can be used in non-military settings, but also potentially could be applied toward building a nuclear weapon.

"We encourage states to minimize their stocks of HEU [highly enriched uranium] and to keep their stockpile of separated plutonium to the minimum level, consistent with national requirements," the provisional communique states. President Obama and 52 other world leaders are attending the two-day event.

The specific wording has yet to be agreed to by all summit participants, according to informed insiders and notes on the draft communique.

The previous two summits in 2010 and 2012 focused on reducing civilian supplies of HEU material, which has fewer commercial uses.

Separated plutonium can be used to power warheads and , if reprocessed, used to fuel atomic-energy reactors. The latter use has caused a number of countries such as India, Japan and Russia to make plutonium-burning reactors a focus of their nuclear-power sectors.

Meanwhile, France and the United Kingdom have generated plutonium for export, according to the magazine. Elsewhere, South Korea is angling to be allowed to use plutonium reprocessing technology in a new atomic trade deal being negotiated with the United States.

The atomic-energy sector's reliance on plutonium has caused global stocks of the nuclear material to rise even as HEU caches are being reduced -- in large part due to the national commitments made at previous nuclear-security summits. Worldwide plutonium stocks are presently assessed at 490 tons, enough to power tens of thousands of warheads.

Jon Wolfsthal, deputy director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said Washington for years has been attempting to convince nations possessing large quantities of plutonium to promise to cap or lower the amount of material they hold in reserve.

However, nations with atomic-energy sectors "have been reluctant to link the issue of nuclear terrorism to their stockpiles of commercial plutonium," out of concern that doing so would draw negative attention to their own plutonium stocks, he said.

As host of this year's summit, the Netherlands has been leading the campaign to include wording on plutonium minimization in the summit's joint statement, according to one informed source cited by the magazine.

Japan on Monday announced it would surrender hundreds of pounds of weapon-usable plutonium to the United States as part of its so-called "gift-basket" to the Nuclear Security Summit process.

March 24, 2014

A draft statement for global leaders attending this week's nuclear summit includes a promise to maintain only "minimum" stocks of weapon-usable plutonium.