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Lag on Nuclear Materials Pact Decried
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Kelsey Davenport

The failure of several key states to ratify a nuclear security treaty ahead of this month’s nuclear security summit is a disappointment, but an Indonesian initiative may increase the pace of ratifications, an official familiar with the preparations for the meeting said.

The two previous nuclear security summits, in Washington in 2010 and Seoul in 2012, have emphasized the importance of the entry into force of a 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). The March 24-25 summit in The Hague is also likely to encourage ratification of this treaty.

The original treaty, which entered into force in 1987, sets security standards for nuclear material in transit. Its 2005 amendment would expand the scope of the physical protection measures to cover material in storage. An additional 26 ratifications are necessary to reach the 98 necessary for bringing the amendment into force.

Although the 2012 Seoul summit communiqué urged states “in a position to do so to accelerate their domestic approval” of the amendment in order to achieve entry into force by 2014, 17 of the 53 summit participants have yet to ratify it.

In an e-mail exchange last month with Arms Control Today, the official said that the “absence of action” by several key states, including the United States, is a “blow to the summit process and its momentum.”

But a “promising initiative” led by Indonesia may assist countries in speeding up their ratification of the 2005 amendment, the official said.

The initiative, known as the National Legislation Implementation Kit, consolidates existing guidance on nuclear security, simplifying the process for states to update domestic regulations to comply with key nuclear security treaties and guidelines. Indonesia announced at the 2012 summit that it would develop the kit, and a rollout is expected at The Hague, the official said.

HEU Minimization

The 2012 communiqué also encouraged states to announce voluntary actions to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) “where technically and economically feasible” by 2013.

The official said that many countries have made such announcements, but some states have yet to “step up” and fulfill this commitment.

In a Feb. 18 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Elena Sokova, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Nonproliferation, noted the recent removals of all weapons-usable materials from Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Yet, she pointed out that Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Switzerland still hold stocks of HEU for civilian purposes and that France and the United Kingdom have civilian and military stocks of HEU and plutonium.

Sokova said she hoped that countries in western Europe would be “forthcoming with new pledges for the minimization” of HEU and plutonium use at the 2014 summit.

Countries should focus on “hard cases,” such as “devising solutions” to the question of how to convert French and German research reactors from HEU to low-enriched uranium fuel or other alternatives, she said. Countries also should work on policy solutions to reduce stockpiles of civilian separated plutonium and excess military stocks of HEU and plutonium, she said.

The Dutch hoped to expand the scope of nuclear security at the 2014 summit to include military material, but it has proved challenging to negotiate, the official said.

Western Europe is “well positioned” to lead international efforts to eliminate excess military materials and to put “these stocks under international verification and monitoring,” Sokova said.

New Commitments

In addition to the commitments in the communiqué, some groups of countries are expected to make multilateral commitments at the 2014 summit.

One of these will come from the four Latin American participants—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico—on their “common regional thought” on a comprehensive approach to nuclear security, Irma Arguello said in a Feb. 19 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

Arguello, the founder and chair of the Buenos Aires-based NPS Global Foundation, said that the statement will point out the “need to articulate nuclear security within the overall efforts to promote nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.” It also will highlight the need to include military materials in summit efforts and say that measures to prevent nuclear terrorism are “no substitute for the enhanced security” that comes from the abolition of nuclear weapons, she said.

Tanya Ogilvie-White, research director at the Centre for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament at the Australian National University in Canberra, told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 12 e-mail that group action from the Asia-Pacific region is unlikely given the “spectrum of different attitudes to nuclear security and the summit process.” The summit process, however, has led more countries to “recognize and accept” the threat posed by expanding nuclear weapons arsenals and expanding energy programs in the region and take concrete steps to improve nuclear security, she said.

She highlighted stronger physical protection of nuclear materials in Pakistan and Japan’s establishment of an independent nuclear regulatory authority as key regional developments.

Ogilvie-White, who, like Sokova and Arguello, is a regional representative for the Washington-based Fissile Materials Working Group, identified the summit as an opportunity to create momentum toward an Asia-Pacific mechanism for the “sharing of nuclear security best practice, which could be used as a model for other regions.”

Australia’s efforts provide a model for other countries to follow, she said. For example, in the run-up to its 2013 review by the International Atomic Energy Agency of the physical protection of its research reactor, Australia invited countries in the region to share in its “experience of preparing for external peer review of its nuclear security practices,” Ogilvie-White said.

Looking toward the 2014 summit, she said she would like to see more countries in the region make commitments to address insider threats, which are “serious and growing” in the Asia-Pacific region.

Arguello also identified “vulnerable social and political environments” that “could favor terrorism and illicit trafficking” as the main sources of nuclear risk in her region.

Awareness of nuclear risks is low, she said, and many countries view nuclear security “as a problem of developed states.” At the 2014 summit, Arguello said, it is essential that participating states “define mechanisms and ways to include” states that are not participating in the process to help control regional nuclear risks.

Posted: March 4, 2014