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Nuclear Security Summit’s Scope May Grow
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Robert Golan-Vilella

The range of issues to be discussed at next year’s nuclear security summit in Seoul may be broadened to cover radioactive sources, the lead South Korean official for summit preparations recently said.

Some countries also are pressing for nuclear safety to be added to the agenda in the aftermath of the March 11 tsunami that devastated Japan’s Fukushima reactor complex, he added.

Speaking at a conference in Vienna on April 13, Kim Bong-hyun, South Korea’s deputy foreign minister for multilateral and global affairs, outlined a series of “key points to further and expand discussions” based on the work plan adopted at the first nuclear security summit. At that meeting, which took place in April 2010 in Washington, the participants agreed to meet for a follow-on summit in Seoul in 2012. (See ACT, May 2010.) At a May 9 press conference in Berlin, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced the date of the 2012 summit, saying that it would take place March 26-27.

The nine issues Kim listed at the Vienna conference, which was hosted by the Fissile Materials Working Group and the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, were guidelines for managing highly enriched uranium, transportation security, illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, nuclear forensics, nuclear security culture, treaty ratification, coordination among various nuclear security initiatives and regimes, information security, and radioactive sources. Of these, the final two were not addressed at the Washington summit and would represent an expansion of the summit’s scope. Kim said these points were identified last November at a meeting in Buenos Aires of “sherpas,” or officials who lead their government’s preparations for an event such as the nuclear security summit. Kim is the South Korean sherpa for the 2012 summit.

On radioactive sources, Kim said the “possibility of a terrorist attack using a ‘dirty bomb’ is higher than that of nuclear terrorism.” A particular challenge in this area will be for countries to define “which radiological materials should be regulated, taking into account cost-effectiveness,” he said.

Kim noted that since the March 11 tsunami, which overwhelmed the Fukushima reactor complex and caused radioactive particles to be released into the atmosphere, some countries have expressed an interest in addressing nuclear safety issues at the summit. (See ACT, May 2011.) The Fukushima incident exposed vulnerabilities that could potentially be replicated by “persons of malicious intent,” he added.

One open question for the South Korean government is which countries it will invite to participate in the 2012 summit; representatives of 47 states and three international organizations attended the Washington summit. Kim said his government was considering expanding the list of participants for next year’s summit, but that it would first have to carefully consider how that would affect the interaction among participants.

During his Berlin press conference, Lee raised the possibility that North Korea might be among the countries invited to take part in the Seoul summit. According to a summary of his remarks issued by his office, Lee said that “he is willing to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-il” to the summit “if Pyongyang commits to denuclearization.” As an additional condition, Lee stated that North Korea would need to “apologize for its aggressions,” including the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan and its attack on the island of Yeonpyeong, before the invitation could be made.

In a May 11 statement, a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a North Korean government body that deals with intra-Korean issues, strongly condemned Lee’s remarks, calling them “a ridiculous attempt to disarm [North Korea] and realize the ambition for invading it in collusion with” the United States.

In his Vienna presentation, Kim strongly stressed the need for countries to ratify international agreements relating to nuclear security, particularly the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The amendment would extend and strengthen the convention’s physical protection requirements by including materials in storage or use at domestic nuclear facilities as well as materials in transit. The sherpas suggested creating “model national legislation” for implementing both treaties, as each requires countries to make changes to their domestic laws, Kim said.

Many of the first summit’s attendees, including the United States, have not ratified one or both of these conventions. On April 13, the anniversary of the Washington summit, President Barack Obama submitted legislation required for the ratification of the nuclear terrorism convention and the physical protection amendment to Congress, the White House announced that day. In September 2008, the Senate approved resolutions of advice and consent to ratification for these agreements, but the implementing legislation must be approved before the United States can ratify them.

In advance of the Seoul summit, the sherpas will hold further preparatory meetings in Finland in October, in India in February, and in South Korea in March, Kim said.