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Thursday, October 20, 2016
- When some of the world’s major nuclear powers meet in Washington DC next Friday, they will be shadowed by the rising terrorist attacks– largely in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, which will take place 31 March-April 1, will the fourth and final conference in a series initiated by US President Barack Obama in 2009 to address one key issue: nuclear terrorism as an extreme threat to global security.
According to the US State Department, the overarching theme of the summit meeting, to be attended by the world’s nuclear leaders, is “the risk of nuclear or radiological terrorism and how nations can mitigate this threat.”
Dr Rebecca Johnson, a London-based expert on non-proliferation and multilateral security agreements, told IPS the terrorist attacks that ripped through Brussels “tragically remind us that President Obama’s key objective in setting up the Nuclear Security Summits was to prevent nuclear materials getting into the hands of anyone wishing to use them for nuclear or radiological weapons.”
“As well as strengthening intelligence and transnational cooperation, I hope they won’t forget that the risks start with the nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nine nuclear-armed states”.
These nine include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council –the US, Britain, France, China and Russia –plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
Johnson said access to nuclear weapons and materials would be greatly reduced if governments would take bold steps to prohibit everyone from using and deploying nuclear weapons, along with activities like transporting warheads and nuclear materials.
This is one of the initiatives being discussed in a UN Working Group in Geneva this year.
“But the Obama administration appears determined to block any progress towards this nuclear security objective, which would put nuclear weapons on the same illegal, pariah footing as chemical and biological weapons,” said Dr Johnson, who founded the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy in 1996 after working as an activist and then analyst on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations
Dr M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Programme on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS: “As the last nuclear security summit during the Obama administration’s term, I hope that the summit will not be an exercise in futility. Unfortunately, I don’t think we should have any expectations of any dramatic breakthroughs”.
To start with, he said, all the Security summits have been very narrowly focused on just civilian HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium). Occasionally there is some talk about plutonium, but this is more the exception than the rule.
The real big stockpiles of fissile material are the military stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and weapon grade plutonium that are possessed by countries with nuclear weapons, and the large quantities of reactor grade plutonium accumulated by countries that reprocess their spent fuel, he pointed out.
“These stockpiles should be the real focus of any process that is interested in reducing nuclear dangers—and unfortunately I think the upcoming summit will fail that test”, said Dr Ramana, the author of The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India.
Dr Johnson told IPS though it’s essential to share intelligence and ensure the best possible safety and security practices around nuclear facilities and materials, but more sustainable security requires ending the production and use of plutonium and highly enriched uranium – not only for weapons purposes, but also for military purposes like naval nuclear reactors in submarines and for all commercial purposes.
“There’s no need for these highly dangerous fissile materials to be produced or used any more”.
She said banning the production, use and trade in plutonium and HEU should be a no brainer for anyone who really cares about preventing nuclear use and terrorism.
But unfortunately the US and many others who plan to be in Washington next week are so stuck in their own outdated nuclear dependencies that they will prefer to rearrange the deckchairs rather than tackle the tough challenges that require them to change direction, he added.
“The two most salient measures they could take to prevent nuclear terror are the ones they will try to avoid – a nuclear ban treaty to take these WMD (weapons of mass destruction) out of circulation, and measures to end the production and use of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for all purposes,” declared Dr Johnson.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org