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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Nuclear Summit Set to Host World Leaders
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Daniel Horner

Almost immediately after signing a strategic arms treaty this month, President Barack Obama will have to focus his attention on another part of his nuclear policy agenda: securing vulnerable nuclear materials around the world.

Obama is preparing to host the leaders of about 40 countries in Washington April 12-13. The signing of New START is set for April 8 in Prague, where Obama delivered a wide-ranging speech on nuclear policy last April.

In that speech, Obama announced an “international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years” and “a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year.” (See ACT, May 2009.)

The countries on the invitation list for the security summit include Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam, a U.S. official said March 29.

The list of 45 countries apparently includes some relatively recent additions; earlier reports, confirmed by the administration, had put the number at 43. (See ACT, January/February 2010.)

The U.S. official declined to say whether specific countries would be attending. The United States is “waiting for definitive replies” from some invitees, he said. Because the invitation came from Obama, there is an expectation that countries will send their top officials, he added.

The United States also has invited three international organizations—the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the United Nations—he said.

The summit participants are expected to issue a communiqué pledging to bolster efforts to make nuclear materials secure. In a March 22 interview, Roger Howsley, executive director of the World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) in Vienna, said it would be very useful if the communiqué contained language endorsing the sharing of best practices by the nuclear industry and others.

WINS, which was launched in September 2008, aims to help secure nuclear and radioactive materials to make them inaccessible to terrorists. The members range from nuclear industry giants such as the French company Areva to members of guard forces and police that guard nuclear facilities, Howsley said.

In the nuclear industry, cooperation on safety is generally much better than on security, which is seen as being “a good deal more sensitive,” Howsley said. Attitudes toward security have to shift somewhat from “need to know” to “need to share,” he said. He emphasized that he was not referring to specific details on obtaining access to particular facilities, but rather to organizational approaches to issues such as management oversight and corporate governance.

After the nuclear summit, on April 14, there is scheduled to be a session on the nuclear industry’s role in nuclear materials security. The session is being organized by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Washington-based industry association for the nuclear industry.

Questions of Funding

The Obama administration is pursuing the goal of securing nuclear materials in a number of ways. A major element is the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy. Under the administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, funding for the GTRI would rise to $559 million; Congress appropriated $334 million for fiscal year 2010. (See ACT, March 2010.)

Some nongovernmental experts have said funding at the level the administration requested for fiscal year 2011 and the following years would not allow the programs to move at a fast enough pace to meet Obama’s four-year goal. However, congressional appropriators have expressed a different concern, wondering if the Energy Department would be able to manage such large funding increases.

At a March 4 hearing of the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee, Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), who chaired the hearing, said that “[s]ignificant portions” of the funding for the NNSA nonproliferation programs “depend on finalizing agreements with other nations, something that is notoriously difficult to firmly nail down in time.” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), the panel’s ranking member, also questioned the increase.

In a hearing at the Senate’s counterpart subcommittee six days later, Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), the ranking member, raised similar issues, with Bennett citing “a history of large unobligated balances,” that is, funds that Congress appropriated but the department did not spend in a given fiscal year.

At the March 10 hearing, NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino said that, over the last two years, his agency had “successfully executed large funding increases in several nonproliferation programs” while reducing the percentage of unspent funds.

In the past year, the NNSA has significantly reduced the staff vacancy rate, he said. He also cited the use of contract mechanisms that he said were well suited to GTRI work. “We are looking to commit all of the money for the [fiscal year 2011] work that we’ve requested in the budget, and we believe we can do it,” he said.

In addition to the proposed increase in existing programs, such as the GTRI, the administration’s budget request includes at least one new element for securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear terrorism. In the section of the request dealing with international programs administered by the Department of State, the administration asks for $3 million to support implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires countries to establish effective national controls to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.