The April 2010 nuclear security summit in
Because they are attended by heads of state, these biennial summits have the potential to become the pre-eminent international forum where the state of global nuclear material security is evaluated and where new commitments are made to improve the world’s defenses against nuclear terrorism. They could become the nuclear security equivalent of what the UN climate change conference process is for transnational environmental challenges and what the Group of Eight (G-8) and Group of 20 (G-20) meetings are for global financial issues. To achieve this status, however, the nuclear security summit process needs to evolve, and participating counties need to be willing to accept changes that will strengthen the nuclear material security regime.
The lead-up to the 2012 summit provides an opportunity to begin this evolutionary process. The
This type of a declaration would utilize the inherent action-forcing value of the summit process, set a precedent for achieving further improvements over time at subsequent summits, and position
Some of the new policy initiatives for the
Acknowledging the Threat
One of the significant challenges in maintaining nuclear material security as a high global priority is that a number of nations do not see nuclear terrorism as a real threat. The
However, there is still skepticism in some governments. One issue is a belief that building even a crude nuclear weapon is beyond the capability of most terrorist groups. Also, virtually every country possessing fissile materials is reluctant to acknowledge that its security procedures may have shortcomings that could be exploited by terrorists.
A number of U.S. blue-ribbon commissions and analyses have underscored the threat of nuclear terrorism. The cables that were released by WikiLeaks in late 2010 indicate that other countries beyond the United States and its NATO allies are concerned about this threat. The root of the threat is the very large and still growing stockpile of weapons-usable fissile material around the globe. Rough estimates put it at 1,600 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and 500 metric tons of plutonium. About one-half of the world’s fissile material is in military stockpiles; the remaining 50 percent is in civilian stockpiles. The exact amount of this material is not known with any precision; the margin of error on the estimates is as much as 300 metric tons for HEU and as much as 25 metric tons for plutonium. Even with the imprecise estimates, it is clear that there is enough material for 100,000 to 150,000 nuclear weapons today.
The HEU has prompted particular concern because it is used in a number of nonmilitary applications, and a crude HEU gun-type device is considered to be the type of nuclear weapon most accessible to terrorists. It is estimated that it would take 40-50 kilograms of HEU to make such a device. However, it likely would be large and heavy, and creating it would require some basic infrastructure support, such as a machining capability. A plutonium device is much more difficult to develop without a more sophisticated technical infrastructure and experts, and terrorists likely would need more technical assistance with this type of a weapon.
Nuclear smuggling is another window into the threat and its reality. According to the IAEA, there have been 1,600 cases of illicit nuclear trafficking since 1993. There have been 18 cases of the theft or loss of HEU or plutonium. None of the HEU that was recovered was reported missing from the facility from which it disappeared. Recently, there have been three cases of holding radiological sources for ransom.
Irrespective of the possession of fissile materials, virtually every country possesses and uses radiological sources for industrial and medical purposes. Some of these sources are very high intensity. Radiological terrorism is considered to be a higher-probability event than a nuclear attack. Radiological devices do not result in nuclear explosions, but they do spread toxic radioactive materials. A radiological attack is much less sophisticated than a nuclear terrorist attack and would cause much less physical damage, but its impact on the global economy could be very significant depending on the location. There is a significant problem with the security of radiological sources around the world. The IAEA estimates that there are 100,000 to 1 million radiological sources around the globe, but no one knows for sure.
In the wake of the nuclear emergency that occurred in
Nuclear Material Security
Despite the agreement at the
Nuclear material security involves the accounting of plutonium and HEU and the protection of those materials against theft or diversion to use by terrorists, other nonstate actors, and non-nuclear-weapon states. By comparison, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the nonproliferation regime are concerned with preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to new states, primarily through the diversion of nuclear materials or the clandestine use of an existing nuclear infrastructure by a state for weapons purposes. The IAEA safeguards program is the primary way that compliance with the NPT is monitored.
Because nuclear material security is widely considered to be the responsibility of the country that possesses the materials, and these materials are considered to be sensitive, a number of international agreements, national regulations and laws, and nonbinding recommendations are applicable in this area and constitute the foundation of the current regime. One result of this disaggregated approach, however, is that there are no standardized international rules governing nuclear material security, and each country creates its own system.
Two very important decisions need to be made at the outset of the planning for the South Korean summit: What will be the scope of that event, and how will the summit expand the nuclear material security regime beyond its current limits? In December, the Korean government gave some indication of the issues that it was interested in seeing addressed. These included a progress report on implementing the Washington summit commitments, developing HEU management guidelines, enhancing security culture, countering nuclear smuggling, strengthening nuclear forensics cooperation, and securing radioactive materials. The issues of enhancing transportation security and information sharing and security may be added to this list. There also is the very sensitive issue of how to address the issue of
Recently, the Japanese nuclear crisis has created pressure to add nuclear safety to the agenda. This issue, and its relationship to the future of nuclear power, could obscure the unique focus of the summit on nuclear material security unless it is used to advance the security agenda. One important step is to follow the example of the European Union, which recently agreed to conduct voluntary “stress tests” to assess the safety of the 143 nuclear reactors in EU countries. The tests will be conducted by national regulators based on agreed upon criteria, and the results will be made public. This is an important precedent that overcomes concerns about borders and sovereignty to ensure that there is uniformity in EU safety procedures and technology.
Nuclear security summit participants could agree in advance of the
The South Korean government has established an interministerial preparatory committee headed by Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik to organize the summit and has opened a preparatory office led by Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan to oversee general planning, management and protocol for the event. There also seems to be movement toward the creation of an advisory committee that would include representatives from leading South Korean think tanks. As presently envisioned, the Seoul summit would be anchored by the government summit, but as in last year’s event in Washington, there would be two satellite events—one for the nuclear energy industry and the other for nongovernmental and academic experts.
As South Korean officials and their counterparts from other countries discuss the upcoming summit, they should consider how to build the summit process into a strong and lasting initiative that will serve global nuclear security objectives. All the new proposals for the
This declaration could include six key issue areas that are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. If actions were implemented under each of them, they would significantly improve the global security of nuclear and radiological materials.
Track commitment implementation. The participants in the
By the 2012 summit, it is unlikely that all countries will have implemented all commitments. Even the
The South Korean summit could announce the establishment of some type of a transparent display, such as a Web site, that allows the public to assess progress. Such a step is essential to maintaining the credibility of the summit process.
Strengthen the regime. Although there seems to be some international fatigue with the current set of nuclear material security activities, this is partly because of the large number of initiatives undertaken in the past 15 years. These efforts were developed as the opportunity or need presented itself, rather than as part of a rational planning process. Now, the threat has been validated, the gaps in the existing regime identified, and the need to harmonize and strengthen the current unwieldy system demonstrated.
In addition to nuclear material security stress tests, one step that the South Korean summit could take is recognizing that the Obama administration’s four-year objective to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the globe was an important motivator of international action but that the goal is unlikely to be accomplished by 2013. There is even a danger in strictly hewing to this goal because it conveys the sense that this mission requires only four years when it in fact is a lifetime objective. The security of nuclear materials must evolve and be strengthened as long as these materials exist. That should be one key statement in the 2012 communiqué.
Another step is to organize some of the new ideas that have been put forth in the Sherpa process for strengthening the regime. These ideas could include developing HEU management guidelines, countering nuclear smuggling, strengthening nuclear forensics cooperation, and enhancing transportation security.
A third step is to consider endorsing the development of a nuclear material security architecture that will provide cohesion and a driving force. The current nuclear and radiological material security regime does not have an essential organizing document. One proposal is to package the current regime and new initiatives in an international framework agreement. A nuclear material security framework agreement would identify the threats to humankind from vulnerable fissile and radiological materials, especially the threats posed by terrorists, and list actions and commitments required to mitigate them. It especially would allow the subject to be acknowledged at a very high political level as a global priority and then require the adherents to take specific steps to achieve the agreement’s objectives.
This could streamline the existing components of the regime and allow new initiatives to be folded into the agreement over time. It would alleviate some of the overlapping meeting and reporting burdens that are currently placed on governments by the broad spectrum of existing programs.
This type of agreement may run into serious opposition because of bureaucratic resistance or concerns that it could turn into a never-ending multilateral negotiation. Nevertheless, rationalizing the current regime should be a priority at future summits and should be included as an objective in the next communiqué. It also could authorize a small diplomatic working group to prepare a recommendation for the following summit or focus the development process on a coalition of those countries committed to the framework proposal.
Standardize nuclear material security. Each country protects its nuclear materials differently. The IAEA provides detailed technical recommendations for the securing of nuclear facilities, domestic regulations are developed and approved by individual nations, and international conventions provide norms for nuclear material protection, although not all have been approved by all countries. Even with these interrelated guidelines, no universal standard exists for securing nuclear materials and weapons.
There are reasons that the nuclear material security system is not standardized, including sovereignty and national security concerns, but the question is whether these motives outweigh the danger. The need for more-standardized methods to implement nuclear material security and to judge its effectiveness is an important issue that merits further examination in advance of the next summit.
The establishment of these standards would eliminate gaps in implementation and help to ensure accurate assessments of security across borders. These standards could include performance-based and security-specific criteria as well as suggestions for regulations. However, they would have to be constructed carefully so they do not conflict with national laws and regulations or undermine the legitimacy of the security recommendations provided by the IAEA, including the recently revised Information Circular on the physical protection of nuclear material.
Discussions are taking place inside and outside the IAEA on the subject of nuclear security standards, but there are differing views that are not easy to reconcile. Development of a baseline standard is almost certainly too controversial to be completed before the 2012 summit. Yet, the summit communiqué could endorse the objective of creating a baseline standard and then task a technical working group with convening the discussions and performing the assessments that will be needed to begin the process of moving countries toward a unified standard by a possible 2014 summit or perhaps even beyond that date.
Fund global nuclear security. The
Both of these efforts are important and should be continued, but they may need to be better harmonized and include contributions from new countries, including those from the G-20, to maintain strong and broad international political support. One new initiative that the participants in the South Korean summit could take is to endorse a robust and enduring Global Nuclear Security Fund. The fund should total $2.5-3.0 billion per year for all weapons of mass destruction-related efforts over the next 10 years, with roughly 75 percent ($1.9-2.3 billion per year) of that devoted to nuclear security activities.
In addition to endorsing this integrated fund, the 2012 summit communiqué should identify specific objectives to be achieved by the following summit. One target should be the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund, with the goal of doubling its annual budget from about $25 million to $50 million. That would allow this IAEA office to upgrade its efforts to assist countries in improving the security of all nuclear and radiological materials. The communiqué also should support the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which has a broad and important mandate but few resources to command compliance. Also, to entice broader participation in the global fund, the cost of a country’s domestic nuclear security improvements above its current standards should be counted as part of that country’s donation to the fund.
The creation of this fund would need to be coordinated with the Global Partnership countries, but by making it a global fund with new contributors and rules, it could overcome some of the current donor fatigue that exists in some G-8 countries.
Secure radiological sources. The issue of radiological material security was not afforded a high priority at the
The upcoming summit could endorse several actions in this area, beginning with an international commitment to secure all high-intensity radiological sources in public buildings with an immediate focus on major metropolitan hospitals. The
Enhance technical and educational engagement. At the summit, participants could take several steps to address the human element of nuclear material security.
The first is the promotion of best practices, education, and security culture. The
A second goal should be the establishment of a multilateral technical working group that would complement the current Sherpa process. This group could work through the details of issues that the South Korean summit endorses but that would not be ready for implementation before a 2014 summit. These could include nuclear and radiological security standards and elimination of civil HEU. This group could provide reports on progress to the periodic Sherpa meetings and allow that political body to help resolve difficulties that may arise in the technical discussions. The establishment of a technical working group would provide a mechanism for moving some essential but complex issues forward between summits.
The third objective is better partnering among government, industry, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Government, civil society, and the private sector all play important roles in responding to 21st-century nuclear proliferation threats, and each sector offers a vital contribution the others lack. These key stakeholder groups need to be brought into more regular contact as part of a new, multidisciplinary nuclear material security “Iron Triangle.” The NGO and industry events that took place around the 2010 summit are examples of how this conceptual triangle is beginning to take a concrete form. The goal would be to exchange ideas among the key stakeholders and to plan and implement common or mutually reinforcing policies, events, and actions. The
The nuclear security summit process is a new and unique opportunity to begin to build a stronger 21st-century nuclear material security architecture. The
As a first step, there should be a decision to continue the summit process until significant improvements beyond the scope of the current nuclear material security regime are implemented. The
A second priority is to use the 2012 summit to begin to reframe the nuclear material security debate and to initiate some key changes in strategy and policy. Each summit needs to be viewed as a chance to strengthen and improve the nuclear material security regime further beyond its current limits. The
If successfully initiated and implemented, the declaration can significantly improve the security of nuclear and radiological materials worldwide and create a much stronger barrier against nuclear terrorism over time. This should be the primary objective of the nuclear security summits.
Kenneth N. Luongo is president of the Partnership for Global Security and was a senior adviser on nonproliferation policy to Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary. He is a member of the Arms Control Association’s board of directors.
1. See, for example, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, “The 9/11 Commission Report,” July 22, 2004, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/index.htm; Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, “World at Risk,” December 2008, www.preventwmd.com/report.
6. Matthew Bunn, “Securing the Bomb 2010: Securing All Nuclear Materials in Four Years,”
12. The concept of a Seoul Declaration was developed by the Partnership for Global Security in collaboration with staff at the Johns Hopkins University U.S.-Korea Institute. The elements of the declaration in this article are the author’s conception.
13. Matthew Bunn of
14. IAEA Information Circular (INFCIRC) 225 provides guidance and recommendations for the physical protection of nuclear material against theft in use, storage, or transport and contains provisions relating to the sabotage of material or facilities. INFCIRC 225 was released in 1975, and its fifth revision was completed in 2011.
15. The resolution was unanimously passed by the UN Security Council in April 2004 under its Chapter VII authority to address issues dealing with international peace and security. The resolution requires that all member states create and enforce measures to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction materials and equipment, including through export controls and criminalization of misuse. States are required to report on their efforts to implement the resolution and are encouraged to request or lend assistance as necessary. For a list of the national reports that have been submitted, see www.un.org/sc/1540/nationalreports.shtml.
16. Kenneth N. Luongo, “Right-Sizing the ‘Loose Nukes’ Security Budget: Part 2,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 25, 2010, www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/right-sizing-the-loose-nukes-security-budget-part-2.
18. This is a permutation of an idea that was proposed as a government-industry forum in a new Brookings Institution study’s survey and was deemed to be acceptable to many of the industry respondents. See Brookings Institution, “Non-Proliferation and the Nuclear ‘Renaissance’: The Contribution and Responsibilities of the Nuclear Industry,” May 2010.
With the approach of the 2012 nuclear security summit in
Therefore, it is not clear how
On April 21, 2010, just a week after the
The process could develop as follows:
One or more of the five countries that had been involved in multilateral talks with
The substance of the meetings could be a series of discussions on the protection of direct-use materials, perhaps initially focusing on plutonium, or best practices for radiological material security. The workshops could focus on the technicalities of providing modern security for stockpiles using computer-based accounting methods; physical security systems that utilize cameras, fences, and intrusion detection technologies; emergency management and communications techniques; guard force training; and protection of materials in transit. They also could include border security and prevention of nuclear smuggling. These issues are at the heart of the summit’s objectives.
There is no need to engage with the North Koreans on the specific materials or facilities that they possess. In similar discussions of sensitive facilities, the
The 2010 summit called for high levels of protection in all countries, not just the 47 countries that attended the event. Reaching out to
Furthermore, it would provide
If successful, this process could open the door for