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Security Sumitry. President Barack Obama talks with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, center, and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia at the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, a first-of-its-kind gathering of 47 world leaders where commitments were made to better secure weapons-usable nuclear material around the world.
Security Sumitry. President Barack Obama talks with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, center, and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia at the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit, a first-of-its-kind gathering of 47 world leaders where commitments were made to better secure weapons-usable nuclear material around the world.
(White House photo by Pete Souza)
Nuclear Security
The Road to Seoul
Summit process shines spotlight on nuclear terrorism prevention

There are few photo ops in the fight against nuclear terrorism. Typically, a small, committed group of government officials and international experts quietly negotiate agreements and take actions outside of the public’s view to reduce the risk of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) from falling into the wrong hands. However, citizens around the world received a rare glimpse into what exactly is being done to keep us safe when President Barack Obama convened the largest ever gathering of world leaders in Washington, DC, in April 2010 for an unprecedented Nuclear Security Summit (NSS). Two years later, world leaders and international organizations will reconvene in Seoul, South Korea, for a second NSS where they will assess how well they have fulfilled commitments made in Washington and take new steps to strengthen global nuclear material security.

A principal achievement of the Washington summit was gaining agreement among all 47 nations in attendance that nuclear terrorism is among the top global security challenges of our time. Reasoning that strong nuclear material security measures are the most effective way to prevent nuclear terrorism, they launched a global effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years. This ambitious goal was written into the summit’s communiqué alongside a number of related pledges that support compliance with the existing nuclear materials security regime. The communiqué was accompanied by a more detailed work plan that provides guidance on the implementation of the political commitments made at the summit.

Measurable Progress
While these consensus documents were important for demonstrating broad support for nuclear terrorism prevention as a global issue—rather than a paranoid US obsession—the commitments they contain are nonbinding and heavily caveated. The interpretive wiggle room that countries left for themselves makes it difficult to track the degree to which communiqué and work plan commitments have been fulfilled, especially when relying solely on open sources. However, many countries also made national commitments to take specific measures to improve nuclear security. Efforts to fulfill these national commitments represent some of the most far-reaching and concrete results of the 2010 summit.

Approximately 60 percent of the national commitments made in Washington have been completed with notable progress made on an additional 30 percent. Important examples include: Chile removing all HEU from the country, Kazakhstan eliminating 33 kilograms of HEU, and Russia ending its production of plutonium. A number of countries ratified the foundational international conventions governing nuclear material security, joined international initiatives, and committed millions of dollars to support the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Security Fund and other targeted projects to convert HEU reactors, prevent smuggling, and secure materials.

New Concerns Arise
The 2012 Seoul summit is expected to maintain a primary focus on nuclear material security. In particular, countries will report on progress implementing their 2010 commitments, assess progress toward the four-year goal, and issue a second communiqué. Countries are also being urged to again make national commitments at the summit. However, the summit’s scope is expected to slightly expand into the related realm of nuclear safety.

The Seoul summit will take place approximately one year after an earthquake and tsunami caused a devastating accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that exposed the local population to radiation. There are other international forums directly addressing the nuclear safety lessons and implications of Fukushima, but leaders at the 2012 NSS are expected to rightly draw attention to the intersection of nuclear safety and security. Nuclear safety differs from nuclear security in that it seeks to prevent accidental, rather than intentional, releases of radioactive material. Successfully integrating and implementing robust nuclear safety and security measures is an important aspect of protecting citizens and rebuilding public confidence in our ability to manage nuclear power’s risks.

The 2012 summit may also increase its focus on securing radiological materials. The 2010 NSS referred to states’ responsibilities to secure radioactive sources, but it purposely did not go into much detail in order to preserve the summit’s focus on nuclear materials. However, radiological materials are located in nearly every country around the world and used for medical, commercial, and industrial purposes. Most sources are low intensity and not suitable for a terrorist weapon, but high-intensity radiological sources like cesium-137, americium-241, and cobalt-60 could be fashioned into “dirty bombs” that disperse radiation. While few neighborhoods are home to nuclear power plants and research reactors using HEU and plutonium, many around the world include hospitals where high-intensity radioactive sources are used for lifesaving treatments and therapies. This reality localizes the potential threat of radiological terrorism for global citizens.

Engaging Industry, Civil Society
In addition to government officials heading to Seoul, the heads of nuclear power companies and experts from the nongovernmental and academic communities will also attend their own summits on nuclear security. Similar side-summits took place in Washington in 2010. These events demonstrate that responsibility for nuclear material security extends beyond governments into private industry and civil society.

While “strengthening the global nuclear material security regime” is not something that makes it on to most people’s daily “to do lists,” the global community has a major stake in its continual development and adaptation. In addition to avoiding the dramatic economic, political, and human consequences of nuclear terrorism, the future of nuclear power relies on robust safety and security measures to mitigate radiation risks. Today, 433 nuclear reactors generate 367 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, and the International Atomic Energy Agency projects an additional 90 reactors or more will come online by 2030 for a total of 501 GW. This low-carbon energy source is needed to help countries meet projected energy demand increases to fuel economic growth and raise standards of living, particularly in Asia.

Though the future of the NSS process beyond Seoul is not entirely clear, it would be a major loss if terminated prematurely. A nuclear terrorist incident would impact all aspects of the global economy. The NSS process has succeeded in focusing top-level attention on this issue, and its continuation holds the potential for advancing the nuclear material security regime on an unprecedented scale. Leaders, therefore, should continue to shine the spotlight on the value of nuclear terrorism prevention in protecting the global community.

Nuclear and WMD Security and Summit Diplomacy-Leveraging Top-Level Engagement, Policy Memo, The Stanley Foundation

2012 Nuclear Security Summit: Joint Statement by the Eminent Persons Group, Duyeon Kim, November 2011, Nukes of Hazard

U.S. Pulls 880 Pounds of Bomb Material From Other Countries, September 2011

Official: Nuclear Security Summit Not Likely to Address Safety Issues, September 14, 2011, by Martin Matishak, Global Security Newswire

2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul: Achieving Sustainable Nuclear Security Culture, August 2011, by Igor Khripunov, FAS Strategic Security Blog

The Road to Korea 2012: Nuclear Security Summits and Global Efforts to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism, Policy Dialogue Brief, January 2011

NNSA Removes All Highly Enriched Uranium from Chile, April 2010, by NNSANews

— Michelle Cann, Research Analyst, Partnership for Global Security
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