Consensus for step-change in nuclear security

14 April 2010

Nuclear Security Summit (White House / Chuck Kennedy)
(Image: White House / Chuck Kennedy)
Forty-seven states have committed to maximise security for nuclear materials, bring all relevant conventions into force and continue the peaceful use of nuclear energy.


A communiqué and work plan were released at the end of the Washington summit on nuclear security. The plan is a "political commitment" by the nations to carry out "on a voluntary basis" those actions necessary to prevent the knowledge or materials required for nuclear weaponry to spread.


The work plan can be summarized as achieving universality of two key conventions: the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials. States promised to meet their requirements, ratify them if they had not done so already, to help each other overcome obstacles to ratification and then to help each other implement them.


The communiqué stated: "In addition to our shared goals of nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, we also share the objective of nuclear security." It noted that security is the most effective means to "prevent terrorists, criminals or other unauthorised actors from acquiring nuclear materials."


The "essential role" of the International Atomic Energy Agency in this was noted, and states will "ensure it continues to have the appropriate structure, resources and expertise" to carry out its work. Private industry too was recognised and the governments said they would cooperate to ensure the correct level of physical protection, accountancy and security culture.


The real focus of concern are those nuclear materials that can be used as explosives, high-enriched uranium and separated plutonium, which therefore require special precautions. The states have affirmed that they will "secure, account for, and consolidate these materials" as well as continue to convert research reactors to use low-enriched uranium instead of high-enriched "where technically and economically feasible."


All this work has a deadline of four years, proposed by US President Barack Obama and supported in the communiqué. Apart from regular progress meetings between the states, another full-scale summit is to be held in South Korea in 2012.


Festival of non-proliferation


The security summit comes as part of a very busy period on the nuclear non-proliferation scene, beginning last week when the USA unveiled its Nuclear Posture Review including the conditions under which it would consider using nuclear weapons.
One day later t
he USA and Russia signed off on a landmark treaty to reduce their numbers of deployed nuclear warheads, with a 30% reduction compared to a 2002 agreement.


On 13 April, those countries also signed to destroy 34 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium each, originally agreed in 2000. Obama said these stocks "would have been enough for about 17,000 nuclear weapons," adding that, "Instead, we will use this material to help generate electricity for our people." The USA plans to mix its share with uranium to produce mixed-oxide nuclear fuel for civil power reactors. Russia will use its in fuel for fast-breeder reactors also generating power for the grid.


Much talk about the current situation surrounding Iran has no doubt gone on in Washington. Both Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have said they are pushing for tough new sanctions to hurt Iranian leaders. Sarkozy told CBS that if a majority cannot be foud in the UN Security Council to support this action, "it will be for the USA, Europe and others to take our responsibilities" in terms of financial penalties.


Next month, leaders and nuclear negotiators will convene in New York for the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Obama said: "We will join with nations from around the world to strengthen the NPT as the cornerstone of our global efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons even as we pursue greater civil nuclear cooperation. Because for nations that uphold their responsibilities, peaceful nuclear energy can unlock new advances in medicine, in agriculture, and economic development."



Researched and written

by World Nuclear News