By J C Suresh
The Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC on March 31-April 1, to be joined by 50 world leaders, is the fourth under the leadership of President Barack Obama who stated in his speech in Prague in 2009 that nuclear terrorism is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.
Obama announced an international effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials, break up black markets, and detect and intercept illicitly trafficked materials. The first Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington, DC in 2010, and was followed by Summits in Seoul in 2012 and The Hague in 2014.
The Summit will take place against the perturbing backdrop of the murder of a security guard who worked at a Belgian nuclear plant. That the terrorists who perpetrated bomb attacks at Brussels airport and on a crammed metro, slaying and injuring people on March 22, killed the guard and stole his pass two days later, has fuelled fears that they might be seeking to get hold of nuclear material or planning to attack a nuclear site.
With this in view, U.S. President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio and web broadcast to the nation on March 26: “Next week, dozens of world leaders will come here to Washington for a summit focused on nuclear security. We’ll use that opportunity to also review our joint efforts against ISIL and to make sure the world remains united in this effort to protect our people.”
The two-day summit will convene delegations from more than 50 nations that will continue discussion on the evolving threat and highlight steps that can be taken together to minimise the use of highly-enriched uranium, secure vulnerable materials, counter nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism, the White House said on March 25.
In addition, according to media reports, this year’s summit includes a special session that will focus world leaders on the threat of groups like the Islamic State attacking urban areas across the globe.
“The United States seeks a strengthened global nuclear security architecture that is comprehensive, is based on international standards, builds confidence in nations’ nuclear security implementation and results in declining global stocks of nuclear weapons-usable materials,” the White House said.
There are twin goals for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit — advancing tangible improvements in nuclear security behaviour and strengthening the global nuclear security architecture.
According to Laura S. H. Holgate, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Threat Reduction on the National Security Council, the three previous Summits have achieved “tangible improvements in the security of nuclear materials and stronger international institutions that support nuclear security”.
“At the last (The Hague) Summit, we anticipated not only a cascade of new national commitments, but also a consensus communique that recognizes progress made and looks to sustaining the Summits’ momentum into the future. We also expect to present agreed plans for strengthening the institutional foundations of the global nuclear security architecture: the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, INTERPOL, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction,” Holgate said.
The following factsheet published by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) shows how the U.S. and Kazakhstan – whose President Nursultan Nazarbayev has played a crucial role in ushering in a nuclear weapons free world – how international cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations can make a substantial contribution to nuclear security.
The United States of America and the Republic of Kazakhstan have cooperated on a broad range of nuclear security and nonproliferation topics for nearly two decades. The partnership was established under the umbrella of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Agreement signed in December 1993. Today, the Departments of Energy, Defense, and State work closely with the Government of Kazakhstan to support President Obama’s initiatives to secure vulnerable nuclear material and strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.
At the end of the Cold War, Kazakhstan inherited a vast nuclear weapons infrastructure, which included 1,410 nuclear warheads. Working in close cooperation with the United States, as well as Russia, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and many other international partners, Kazakhstan eliminated or removed from its territory all 1,410 nuclear warheads, dismantled the infrastructure of the Semipalatinsk test site, and destroyed or removed hundreds of missiles, bombers, and tactical nuclear warheads.
Kazakhstan remains a vital and strategic partner in some of the most important nuclear security and nonproliferation efforts worldwide. The United States and Kazakhstan are cooperating to make the world safer from the threat of nuclear terrorism by converting and removing nuclear materials that may be attractive to terrorists, securing nuclear material at production and storage facilities, combating the trafficking of illicit nuclear materials, and protecting radiological materials that could be used in radiological dispersal devices to cause widespread disruption.
In addition, both countries are strongly committed to preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and are working together to continue reducing the proliferation threats associated nuclear materials, technologies, and expertise.
Securing Nuclear and Radiological Material
Converting and Removing Nuclear Material: Minimizing the amount of highly enriched uranium (HEU) available internationally reduces the danger of attractive nuclear material falling into the wrong hands. The United States and Kazakhstan cooperate to convert HEU into low-enriched uranium, which cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon.
Recently the two sides removed and permanently disposed of 33 kilograms (approximately 72 pounds) of HEU fresh fuel from the Institute of Nuclear Physics (INP) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. This recent effort builds on previous collaboration with INP, who partnered with the United States in 2009 to remove 74 kilograms of HEU spent fuel for final disposition in Russia.
Securing Nuclear and Radiological Material at its Source: Strengthening the security of nuclear facilities is an important part of ensuring that nuclear material does not fall into the wrong hands, which is why the United States has cooperated with the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan to upgrade nuclear security at a number of sites in the country since the late 1990s.
For example, the United States has partnered with Kazakhstan and other international partners to decommission the BN-350 fast breeder reactor and secure the equivalent of 775 nuclear weapons-worth of plutonium and HEU that was contained in the reactor’s spent fuel. Operations to transport and store this material to a secure nuclear complex in eastern Kazakhstan were finished in November 2010.
In addition, since 2004, the United States and Kazakhstan have cooperated to upgrade physical protection at 19 facilities housing high-active radioactive sources in Kazakhstan to improve security around the radiological materials.
Combating Illicit Trafficking in Nuclear Materials: The United States and Kazakhstan have cooperated since 2006 to build capacities to deter, detect, and interdict illicit, black-market trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials across international borders. To date, we have worked together to complete the installation of radiation detection systems at 19 ports, land border crossings, airports, and other international points of exit and entry.
Combating Nuclear Terrorism: Since 2006, Kazakhstan has partnered with the United States in the multilateral Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, aimed at strengthening the global capacity to prevent, detect and respond to nuclear terrorism. Through seminars and field exercises, Kazakhstan has actively sought to enhance capabilities related to control, accounting and physical security of nuclear material, and to improve response mechanisms in the event of a terrorist attack on a nuclear facility.
Strengthening the Nonproliferation Regime
Strengthening International Inspection Capabilities: The IAEA plays a vital role in providing assurances that states with nuclear facilities are complying with international legal obligations not to develop nuclear weapons. This week, the United States and Kazakhstan will sign a new agreement to cooperate on research and development to strengthen the verification capabilities of the IAEA. The new agreement will allow both sides to develop new technical approaches for verification challenges.
Building Capacities to Interdict Illicit Trafficking in Nuclear Technologies: The United States and Kazakhstan also have cooperated since 1999 to strengthen export control systems to prevent illicit acquisition of technologies and equipment for nuclear weapons programs, including working with local customs and border officials to recognize and interdict WMD-sensitive goods.
Engaging Scientists with WMD-Relevant Expertise: For more than fifteen years, the United States and other partners have sponsored projects in Kazakhstan through the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) to engage former weapons scientists and other technical personnel with WMD-relevant expertise to prevent the spread of expertise in nuclear weapons development and production.