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Live Blogging the Nuclear Security Summit
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Arms Control NOW

Authored by Kelsey Davenport and Kingston Reif on April 1, 2016

Recap: The Summit Process and Beyond

The Nuclear Security Summit process has forged cooperation and catalyzed action to prevent the common threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism. It has facilitated cooperative efforts between dozens of states to eliminate, consolidate, and secure stocks weapons-usable nuclear material. The process has also accelerated the adoption of tougher standards for the physical protection of nuclear materials where they remain, as manifested today by the news that enough states have ratified the 2005 amendment to the Conventional on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material to allow the amendment to enter into force. 

To ensure that the end of the summit process does not weaken progress toward continuously improving global nuclear and radiological material security, countries cannot afford to let the issue fall off the political radar — domestically or internationally. The nuclear challenge will remain long after the heads of states who gathered in Washington March 31-April 1 leave office.

Serious gaps in the global nuclear security system remain, especially with respect to growing civilian plutonium stockpiles and materials for military use. In particular, there are no common international standards or rules for the security of nuclear materials. The global nuclear security system needs to continue to evolve to become more comprehensive, open, rigorous, sustainable, and involve the further reduction of material stockpiles.

Beyond the challenges of nuclear materials security, there are other nuclear dangers — particularly the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the possibility of further testing by Pyongyang or another state, and the growing tensions between the world’s nine nuclear-armed states. Each of these are urgent challenges that require sustained global leadership, diplomacy, and cooperation similar to that exhibited as part of the nuclear security summit process.

The 2010-2016 nuclear security summit process has played a vital and positive role in reducing the risk of a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists — a risk that may have grown in recent years in light of the rise of Daesh and indications it may have nuclear ambitions. Much more work needs to be done in the years ahead to prevent such a nuclear catastrophe or the risk that nuclear weapons may be used once again by accident or by design. -- KELSEY DAVENPORT, KINGSTON REIF, DARYL KIMBALL

Updated: 17:45 EST

Live stream of President Barack Obama's press conference on the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit.

Updated: 17:40 EST

More details on the U.K-U.S. led cyber initiative. Thirty Summit participants announced they had joined a multilateral initiative "to ensure adequate cyber security at industrial control and plant systems at nuclear facilities." The statement noted that work to date in this area "has mainly focused on mitigating the vulnerabilities of enterprise systems used to manage information and data within nuclear facilities and supply chains" and "needs to extend to industrial control systems."

The states that joined the initiative plan to participate in two international workshops on this issue in 2016 and present the findings of this work at the Ministerial segment of the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security, in Vienna in December 2016.

The 2016 version of the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Nuclear Security Index found that "Nuclear facilities are not prepared for the growing cyber threat." According to the study, "Of the 24 states with weapons-usable nuclear materials and the 23 states that have nuclear facilities but no weapons-usable nuclear materials, 13 received a maximum score for cybersecurity, but 20 states score 0 and do not even have basic requirements to protect nuclear facilities from cyber attacks."

Updated: 16:45 EST

President Barack Obama delivered remarks ahead of the clossing session of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C..

Updated: 15:30 EST

Yesterday, the White House announced the declassification of data on the U.S. inventory of HEU as of September 30, 2013. The date shows that from 1996 to 2013, U.S. HEU inventories decreased from 740.7 metric tons to 585.6 metric tons, a reduction of over 20%. This is an important transparency step that other countries should follow. 

According to the White House fact sheet, the following data has been declassified and is being publicly released:

    • As of September 30, 2013, the total U.S. HEU inventory was 585.6 metric tons. 
    • Of this amount, 499.4 metric tons was for national security or non-national security programs including nuclear weapons, naval propulsion, nuclear energy, and science.
    • Of the remaining 86.2 metric tons, 41.6 metric tons was available for potential down-blend to low enriched uranium or, if not possible, disposal as low-level waste, and 44.6 metric tons was in spent reactor fuel.

Updated: 14:53 EST

 At the 2016 summit, new countries announced removals of nuclear materials. Argentina’s remaining highly-enriched uranium (HEU), about 4 kilograms, was down blended and disposed of. Argentina now joins a growing list of countries that became HEU-free during the summit process.

Indonesia also announced that a portion of its HEU was blended down to LEU and all remaining HEU material will be eliminated from the country by September 2016. Germany announced completion of a cooperative effort with the United States to successfully remove excess plutonium.

The United States announced that since March 2014, 450 kilograms of HEU was removed from 10 countries (Poland, Kazakhstan, Canada, Switzerland, Jamaica, Uzbekistan, Austria, Germany, Japan, and Argentina). 

Material removals are one of the hallmark achievements of the summit process. While some of these quantities are far less than what would be required to build a nuclear weapon, consolidating the number sites with weapons-usable material around the world is a positive step in the right direction.—Kelsey Davenport

Updated: 14:36 EST

Over two dozen countries signed onto a new joint statement at the 2016 summit designed to mitigate insider threats. It is critical to ensure that personnel with access to facilities with nuclear and radiological material cannot steal or divert these materials for malicious purposes or commit acts of sabotage. According to the U.S. Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration, “almost all known cases of theft of nuclear material involved an insider.” The IAEA, which tracks the loss and theft of materials, recorded 442 incidents of unauthorized possession and related criminal activities.

As part of the joint statement, states commit to supporting IAEA efforts to develop courses on preventing insider threats. States also commit to measures to protect against insider threats, including developing national policies on threat mitigation, establishing a nuclear security regime to protect against malicious insider activities, and develop trustworthy limitations.

The states that signed on are: Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Republic of Korea, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States and INTERPOL

Updated: 14:28 EST


Japan and the United States announced today the removal of more than 500 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium fuel from the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA)’s Fast Critical Assembly (FCA). The removal was achieved more quickly than anticipated, according to a joint statement from both countries.

The announcement fulfills a joint pledge both countries made at the last Summit in 2014 in the Hague to remove the material. In the United States, the HEU will be down-blended into low-enriched uranium and used for civilian purposes. The plutonium will be prepared for final disposition in the United States.

The 331 kg of plutonium from the FCA is being transported to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina on two UK-flagged ships, the Pacific Egret and the Pacific Heron. It's not clear when the HEU was shipped. 

Most of the material from the Fast Critical Assembly is of an isotopic composition that makes it particularly well suited for use in weapons.

The two countries also said today that they would work together to remove all HEU fuel from the Kyoto University Critical Assembly (KUCA) to the United States for downblending.  The removal will take place after converting KUCA from HEU to LEU fuels. 

While the announcement of the removal, the largest accomplished as part of the summit process, is a significant achievement, Japan retains an enormous stockpile of nearly 50 tones of separated civilian plutonium in country and abroad, enough for thousands of nuclear weapons. In addition, Japan plans to separate additional tons of plutonium annually at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which is scheduled to begin operation in 2018.—Kingston Reif

Updated: 14:05 EST

Earlier today, President Barack Obama delivered opening remarks at the plenary session of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.

Updated: 13:21 EST

The White House released a fact sheet describing the steps it is taking to ensure that all weapon-usable nuclear material utilized for military purposes remains safe, secure, and under positive control. 

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, 83% of weapons-usable nuclear materials on the planet are categorized as military materials and are “outside the scope of current international security standards, mechanisms, and confidence-building arrangements.”

While it is disappointing that the Summit will not include a specific gift basket on military materials security, hopefully other countries will take the opportunity to reaffirm the importance of adequately and transparently securing military nuclear materials in their national statements. —Kingston Reif

Updated: 12:35 EST

The White House announced yesterday, the day world leaders began to arrive in Washington for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, that the Energy Department is forming a research and development plan “for an advanced fuel system that could enable use of low enriched uranium (LEU) in naval reactors.” Though not a commitment to end the use of weapons-usable highly enriched uranium (HEU) in U.S. naval reactors, the announcement is nonetheless an important step forward and should encourage other countries that use HEU for naval propulsion to pursue similar plans.

As a new report by the International Panel on Fissile Materials notes, the biggest obstacle to ending the use of non-weapons HEU is the use of this material in naval reactors that power submarines, aircraft carriers, and icebreakers. Roughly 290 metric tons of HEU are in global naval inventories according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative—enough for more than 11,000 nuclear weapons.

The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and India use HEU for some, or all of these purposes. The United States accounts for more than half of the HEU used in naval reactors. France uses and China is believed to use LEU to power their naval reactors.

Naval HEU is a security risk because it could be vulnerable to theft during transportation and storage. It is a nonproliferation risk because the longer countries that currently use navel HEU continue to do so, other countries could demand they be allowed to as well.  

Prior to yesterday’s announcement, the Energy Department in 2014 studied the feasibility of using LEU in naval reactors. Last year Congress urged the administration to start a program of work to develop such an LEU fuel.—Kingston Reif 

Updated: 12:05 EST

National progress reports are starting to become publicly available on the Nuclear Security Summit website. Countries began the tradition of self-reporting on their nuclear security accomplishments at the 2012 summit in Seoul. While these reports vary widely in content and form, national reporting provides additional assurance that countries are taking steps to enhance nuclear security, including following through on the over 260 national commitments made a part of the process.

Some of the progress reports that have been posted on the summit website include new commitments, such as the Republic of Korea hosting an outreach event on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 and strengthening nuclear detection at ports. Kazakhstan is going to strengthen its cooperation with Interpol and its export control systems, and Malaysia is revising its nuclear security laws. The United States made a commitment to look at developing naval reactor cores that use low-enriched material. —Kelsey Davenport

Updated: 11:30 EST

A critical nuclear security treaty is on the verge of entering into force. Having reached the required ratifications, President Barack Obama announced at the opening plenary on April 1 that the 2005 Amendment to the Convention on the Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) will enter into force in 30 days. The amended convention will set binding security standards on nuclear facilities and nuclear material that is in domestic storage, use, or transit. Entry into force is a critical step forward for strengthening the nuclear security system, as the original treaty, which entered into force in 1987, only required parties to protect nuclear material in international transit. The summit process has encouraged ratifications, but progress has been slow. Originally, at the 2012 summit, participating states set the goal of achieving entry into force by 2014.

In the days leading up to the final summit, a flurry of ratifications for the 2005 Amendment to the CPPNM were deposited at the International Atomic Energy Agency, including those of three summit participants: New Zealand (March 18), Pakistan (March 24) and Azerbaijan (April 1). Azerbaijan was joined in completing the process on April 1 by non-summit participating states Cameroon, Kuwait, Montenegro. Thirty summit participants ratified the amendment during the six-year summit process, including the United States—Washington committed to ratification at the 2010 summit and finally deposited its instrument at the IAEA in July 2015. —Kelsey Davenport

Updated: 10:41 EST

The United Kingdom announced that it is leading a new, and much-needed, initiative to strengthen cyber security. Cyber sabotage on a nuclear plant could lead to a number of devastating consequences, including releasing of radiation or relaxing protections allowing for physical access to a facility.

This commitment will focus on enhancing cyber security for control and plant systems at nuclear facilities. The U.K.-led process will include two international workshops and best practice sharing. A joint U.K.-U.S. cyber security exercise is also planned for next year to test protections against attacks at civil nuclear installations. Sharing best practices between states, nuclear operators, and the supply chain, is a good way to foster cooperation and encourage all countries to take action. —Kelsey Davenport

Updated: 09:00 EST

More than 50 world leaders are gathering today in Washington, D.C. to discuss the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and take action to enhance the security of nuclear and radioactive materials worldwide. This meeting, the fourth and final in a series of biennial summits initiated by President Barack Obama in 2010, will also tackle the difficult question of sustaining the nuclear security agenda after the summit process ends.

In addition to committing to national and multinational actions, countries are expected to endorse action plans for five existing organizations and initiatives (United Nations, Interpol, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction) to continue the summit's work.

Announcements of new national and multinational commitments are expected throughout the day. The Arms Control Association's Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, and Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, will be live blogging about the day's events as they occur. Check back regularly for news and analysis of the day's events. —Kelsey Davenport
Author: 
Kelsey Davenport and Kingston Reif