World Leaders Vow to Boost Nuclear Security

Volha Charnysh and Daniel Horner

Four dozen world leaders meeting in Washington last month agreed on general principles and individual steps for improving the security of nuclear materials around the world and for preventing nuclear terrorism.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference at the close of the April 12-13 summit, President Barack Obama, who convened the event, said the participating nations “seized” the opportunity “to make concrete commitments and take tangible steps to secure nuclear materials.”

At a separate press conference, White House Coordinator for WMD Counterterrorism and Arms Control Gary Samore said one of the summit’s most important outcomes was eliminating doubts on whether the threat of nuclear terrorism “is really serious.” Another key result, he said, was the “consensus” that “the solution to the threat is actually pretty simple” because “[p]hysical protection is something that governments know how to do, something that private companies know how to do, if they invest the resources.”

Forty-seven national delegations—38 of them represented at the level of head of state or head of government—attended the event, as did the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the United Nations. The participants agreed on a communiqué, which included an endorsement of Obama’s goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials in four years, first announced in April 2009 in Prague, and a work plan. Although no binding commitments were made, in their national statements many states described specific steps they will take to advance nuclear security.

According to the U.S. national statement, Washington’s “first priority is to ensure that nuclear materials and facilities in the United States are secure.” The United States said it plans to invite the IAEA to review the security at its National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Center for Neutron Research, whose reactor is to be converted from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to a new low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel once the fuel has been tested and approved. In addition, the United States is working to develop and deploy new neutron detection technologies and has started an international effort to develop a “framework for cooperation between governments investigating the illicit use of nuclear materials,” the statement says. The document expresses U.S. readiness to commit up to another $10 billion to the Group of Eight’s Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction as well as to complete ratification procedures for the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The amendment strengthens the provisions of the 1980 CPPNM by making protection of nuclear facilities and material in peaceful domestic use, storage, and transport legally binding for states-parties. The original provisions apply only to material during international transport.

Twenty-nine countries announced what Samore called “house gifts,” or measures they have taken or plan to take to strengthen nuclear security.

President Dmitry Medvedev announced the shutdown of Russia’s last weapons-grade plutonium-production reactor, ADE-2. The shutdown marks the end of a long-running effort, which Russia pursued with U.S. assistance. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Also, Russia and the United States signed a protocol revising their stalled 10-year-old agreement on disposition of surplus weapons plutonium (see page 43).

Differing Emphases

At his press conference, Obama said the participants agreed “on the urgency and seriousness of the threat” and reached a “shared understanding of the risk.” The U.S. national statement starts by stressing “the risk of nuclear terrorism as the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” However, Russia’s April 13 memorandum, posted on the Kremlin’s Web site, mentions the risk of nuclear terrorism only in the sixth paragraph. The memorandum begins by describing the nuclear industry as “one of the strategic directions of development.” Although it acknowledges that the industry requires “a high level of physical nuclear security,” it also says that “reliable physical protection is being provided for all nuclear materials and related facilities” on Russian territory and that there are no “vulnerable nuclear materials and facilities with the level of physical security that would cause any concerns” in Russia.

Ukraine agreed to eliminate its stockpile of about 90 kilograms of HEU by 2012 with U.S. technical and financial assistance. At his press conference, Obama said, “For about 10 years, we had been encouraging Ukraine to either ship out its highly enriched uranium or transform it to…lower-enriched uranium. And in part because of this conference, Ukraine took that step.”

Although he won praise at the summit for making the commitment, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was criticized for his decision by the opposition at home. Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said in an April 16 statement on her Web site that his decision to give up HEU “is not in Ukraine’s national security interests and negatively affects its research potential in fields such as nuclear energy, medical technology, chemistry and others.” The opposition plans to submit a draft law to the parliament banning HEU removal, she said.

Canada promised to return to the United States “a large amount” of spent HEU fuel from its medical isotope production reactor. Canada also agreed to fund HEU removals from Mexico and Vietnam, host and fund a World Institute for Nuclear Security (WINS) best practices workshop in Ottawa, and provide $100 million in new bilateral security cooperation with Russia, according to a White House summary of the national commitments made at the summit.

Canada, Mexico, and the United States agreed to convert a Mexican research reactor from HEU fuel to LEU fuel, according to an April 13 trilateral announcement. Kazakhstan reaffirmed a commitment to convert a HEU research reactor and eliminate remaining HEU, and Chile gave up its entire 18-kilogram stockpile of HEU.

The Chilean material left the country March 4 on two ships to the United States and arrived several weeks later, an official from the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in an April 30 interview.

The NNSA, a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy, administers the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). One focus of the GTRI is to secure HEU and plutonium from research reactors supplied by Russia and the United States and repatriate that material.

Recently, the GTRI has also begun to cover “gap material”—HEU and plutonium from countries other than Russia and the United States. The Chilean HEU was the first material to receive authorization to be returned to the United States under that effort, the NNSA official said. Funds for the removal of the gap material from Chile and five other countries were requested and approved for fiscal year 2010.

The Chilean HEU consisted of two batches, 13.9 kilograms of British-supplied material enriched to 45 percent uranium-235 and 4.6 kilograms of French-origin material enriched to 90 percent uranium-235, the NNSA official said.

Sarkozy Proposes Tribunal

France promised to ratify the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM and invite an International Physical Protection Advisory Service security review from the IAEA. “We support the IAEA and its director-general …and are going to go further in our cooperation with the agency,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said at an April 13 press conference.

Sarkozy proposed establishing an international tribunal to deal with states supplying nuclear materials to nonstate actors. He later said this could be accomplished “either by amending the statute of the International Criminal Court to broaden its powers or by establishing an ad hoc court to bridge the gap in international law.” Sarkozy said Obama asked the sherpas—the aides who do the preparatory work, including the drafting of statements, before a summit—to work with the UN secretary-general on this initiative. Samore, at the postsummit press conference, said the idea prompted “a very lively discussion,” after which “the leaders agreed that this is one of the things the experts will be discussing” in the meetings prior to the next summit, which South Korea agreed to host in 2012.

Speaking at an April 14 event at the Hudson Institute in Washington, Andrew Semmel, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation who attended the summit as an IAEA consultant, said a number of countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Russia, supported Sarkozy’s suggestion.

Argentina and Pakistan announced new steps to strengthen port security and prevent nuclear smuggling. China, India, Italy, Japan, and other states agreed to create new centers to promote nuclear security technologies and training.

Some countries pledged new resources to help the IAEA meet its responsibilities and agreed to hold regional or national conferences or meetings in support of nuclear security. The communiqué reaffirmed the “essential role” of the IAEA “in the international nuclear security framework and will work to ensure that it continues to have the appropriate structure, resources and expertise needed to carry out its mandated nuclear security activities.”

Many states, including Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, and the United Kingdom, promised to contribute to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund. The IAEA summit commitment was to complete the final review of its nuclear physical security guidance document.

Focused Efforts

Implementing the communiqué by following the specific steps outlined in the work plan will lead to “focused national efforts to improve security and accounting of nuclear materials and strengthen regulations at the national level,” said Laura Holgate, senior director for WMD terrorism and threat reduction, speaking at the same April 13 news briefing as Samore.

In the work plan, states agree to advance nuclear security with measures that include ratification and implementation of international treaties; support for UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to put in place a wide variety of “appropriate effective” national controls over nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and related materials and the means to deliver them; conversion of civilian facilities from HEU to non-weapons-useable materials; research on new nuclear fuels, detection methods, and forensic technologies; development of corporate and institutional cultures that prioritize nuclear security; education and training; and joint exercises among law enforcement and customs officials to enhance nuclear detection opportunities.

According to the communiqué, states “[r]ecognize that highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium require special precautions and agree to promote measures to secure, account for, and consolidate these materials, as appropriate.” They endorsed “strong nuclear security practices that will not infringe upon the rights of States to develop and utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” Although emphasizing “the role of the nuclear industry, including the private sector, in nuclear security,” the work plan “recogniz[es] that national governments are responsible for standard setting within each State.”

In response to a question about the numerous qualifying phrases in the communiqué, such as “where appropriate” and “where feasible,” Samore said that “the structure of nuclear security is fundamentally a sovereign responsibility of nation states.” He said it is not possible to get an international agreement to give the IAEA the same kind of authority in nuclear security that it has in nuclear safeguards.

The communiqué recognized “that measures contributing to nuclear material security have value in relation to the security of radioactive substances,” but the issue of radiological security was not on the summit’s agenda. Speaking at the same press conference as Samore and Holgate, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the gathering focused on “the highest-consequence threat,” a nuclear explosion, which would result from a device made from plutonium or HEU “as opposed to a dirty bomb.”

At the Hudson Institute briefing, Semmel said several countries brought up the issue of radiological threats in the course of the meeting even though it was not on the formal agenda.

Industry Role

In the communiqué, the meeting participants said they “[r]ecognize the continuing role of nuclear industry, including the private sector, in nuclear security and will work with industry to ensure the necessary priority of physical protection, material accountancy, and security culture.”

Nuclear industry leaders met in a separate session April 14. That meeting, organized by the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), drew more than 200 industry officials, NEI said in an April 15 press release.

In the release, NEI President and Chief Executive Officer Marvin Fertel praised Obama for being “able to elevate the issue of securing nuclear materials that are not secure now to such a high level.” Participants in the industry meeting agreed to form an executive task force to “look at how the industry can align with the goals of the communiqué and work plan,” the NEI release said. The industry leaders also agreed to improve the sharing of “lessons learned in securing materials” and to “strengthen engagement between industry and government,” NEI said.

A delegation of industry officials also met with Vice President Joe Biden April 14. After the meeting, Biden’s office released a statement saying that he “made clear that since roughly half of the world’s nuclear materials are in the hands of industry, public-private cooperation is essential to preventing the spread of nuclear materials to terrorists.” He “challenged the nuclear industry to prepare a set of best practices” by the 2012 summit.

A likely candidate to work with industry to meet that challenge is the Vienna-based WINS, the institute’s executive director, Roger Howsley, said in an April 20 interview. “Unless WINS takes a lead [role], I don’t know who is going to do it on behalf of the worldwide nuclear industry,” he said. That is not because of a “lack of will,” but because WINS was created “to fill a gap” and is already preparing a series of best-practice security guides, which should be completed by the end of 2011, he said. Those guides then will be turned into accredited training materials, he said.

Howsley noted that the Canadian, Japanese, and U.S. national statements at the summit specifically cited WINS.

Next Steps

As follow-up to the summit and preparation for the one in South Korea, there is likely to be an experts meeting “by the end of the year” in Buenos Aires, Samore said. He said he “would expect to have two or three more before the summit in Korea.”

In an April 22 interview, another White House official said it would be up to Seoul to determine the structure and attendance list for the 2012 summit.

Samore said at the briefing that “my prediction is that we are likely to have even more concrete results in 2012. We’ll be able to do better than we did this time because I think we’ve set a pattern; countries will want to come to the next meeting with even bigger and better house gifts.”