Nuclear Security Summit Wrap Up

Also published here.

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, during the Nuclear Security Summit at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., April 12, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, during the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., April 12, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

For the past eight years or so, the Nuclear Threat Initiative has commissioned a series of reports called “Securing The Bomb“. The lead author of these reports is Harvard professor Matthew Bunn, who is an expert in nuclear security and proliferation. The reports deal with the ongoing problem of poorly secured weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, and the possibility of their acquisition and use by terrorists.

Regarding this global nuclear security issue, Dr. Bunn has this to say:

“The challenge is large and complex, but it is a finite task; it is doable… Our biggest obstacle is not complexity; it’s complacency.”

Securing the Bomb 2010” emphasizes the problem of complacency over and over again.

The Obama administration’s Nuclear Security Summit was a refreshing move away from the relative complacency of the previous presidential administration. For the first time, the rhetoric is backed up by action. The Nuclear Security Summit won’t magically solve the problem over night, but it did achieve some concrete goals, as well as setting more for the future.

The Nuclear Security Summit: An Overview

I posted an overview of President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit a few days ago; in that overview, I went into the nature of the threat as well as what the Summit hoped to achieve. To summarize: there is a lot of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium out there, and not all of it is safe and secure from theft, smuggling, and eventual use in a weapon. The Obama administration has set forth the general goal of securing all of the world’s weapons-usable nuclear material in the next four years. The Obama administration hoped that the Nuclear Security Summit would set in motion at the very least, an increased awareness of the problem of “loose nukes”, and even better, some commitments from the world leaders attending.

They achieved quite a lot, as it turns out.

The Nuclear Security Summit: Achievements

Real-World Examples

Doubtless these arrangements were months in the making, but the announcement of them at the Nuclear Security Summit is important. It sets an example of the spirit of cooperation that was part of the reason for holding the summit.

At the Summit, it was announced that:

  • Ukraine will give up all 68kg of its highly-enriched uranium (HEU) so it can be stored safely elsewhere (read more about it here);
  • Russia will shut down its last weapons-grade plutonium-producting reactor (more here);
  • The US and Russia have signed an update to their plutonium disposition agreement, committing to safely dispose of/secure “no less than 34 metric tons” of weapons-grade plutonium in each country by 2018;
  • Canada will return spent HEU to the US for safe storage (more here); and
  • The US, Canada, and Mexico have reached a trilateral agreement to work with the IAEA to convert the fuel in Mexico’s research reactor from HEU to LEU.
  • China will join UN talks on possible sanctions against Iran.

Three Days of Meetings, Distilled On Paper

The Summit produced several high-level documents. The Summit Communiqué (pdf) is a pledge agreed upon by the 47 Summit attendees. It is summarized in a Key Facts document (pdf). The Communiqué:

  • Endorses President Obama’s call to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years, and pledges to work together toward this end;
  • Calls for focused national efforts to improve security and accounting of nuclear materials and strengthen regulations – with a special focus on plutonium and highly enriched uranium;
  • Seeks consolidation of stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium and reduction in the use of highly enriched uranium;
  • Promotes universality of key international treaties on nuclear security and nuclear terrorism;
  • Notes the positive contributions of mechanisms like the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, to build capacity among law enforcement, industry, and technical personnel;
  • Calls for the International Atomic Energy Agency to receive the resources it needs to develop nuclear security guidelines and provide advice to its members on how to implement them;
  • Seeks to ensure that bilateral and multilateral security assistance would be applied where it can do the most good; and
  • Encourages nuclear industry to share best practices for nuclear security, at the same time making sure that security measures do not prevent countries from enjoying the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy.

The Summit also produced a Work Plan (pdf) that describes specific ways that the goals in the Communiqué can be achieved.

Finally, many of the Summit’s participants came up with specific national statements indicating how they will work domestically and multilaterally to achieve their specific nuclear security goals. I think the United States National Statement (pdf) will be of particular interest to a number of watchdog groups and critics. Among many things, it pledges to:

The Nuclear Security Summit definitely had its limitations, but overall it is being hailed as a successful shift from simply talking about the threat of nuclear terrorism to taking action, and making that critical step toward cooperation on securing dangerous nuclear materials world-wide.

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