Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Security Summit focuses on nuclear terrorism threat

The first ever Nuclear Security Summit to address preventing nuclear terrorism wrapped up today. Initiated by President Obama, the summit gathered 47 world leaders in DC to commit to achieving the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material, such as plutonium or highly enriched uranium, and securing loose nuclear weapons within four years. With the Cold War over, nuclear terrorism has emerged as a grave threat to US and global security. This Washington Post article has good coverage of the summit and illustrates why it is so important:

“Nuclear materials that could be sold or stolen and fashioned into a nuclear weapon exist in dozens of nations,” Obama said Tuesday morning. “Just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people.”

…The objective is to secure nuclear material in military installations, civilian research reactors and universities worldwide and to prevent smuggling. Experts say there is enough nuclear material in the world to make more than 120,000 nuclear weapons.

Countries pledged to take specific actions to contribute to that four year goal. Ukraine has announced it will give up its highly enriched uranium in the next two years. Chile shipped its 40 pounds of highly enriched uranium to the US for safekeeping last month. South Korea will host a follow up Nuclear Security Summit in 2012 providing an opportunity to ensure progress is being made. A final communiqué was produced at the end of the two-day conference, according to the Washington Post:

The three-page communique spells out 12 obligations of the nations in attendance, including a promise by each of the signatories to maintain effective security of the nuclear material in their countries.

And it commits the nations to a specific work plan, also to be adopted Tuesday, that spells out best practices, encourages the participants to join international efforts to restrict the exchange of nuclear material, and directs nations to make new investments in nuclear security measures.

The proposed FY 2011 US budget includes an increase in funding for programs to help secure loose nuclear material internationally. In a tough budget year, we will be calling for Congress to ensure those programs are fully funded. William Hartung notes on his Talking Points Memo blog:

One key element in the effort to keep the world’s deadliest weapons out of terrorist hands is financing — money to pay for consolidating nuclear weapons-making materials in fewer sites and better guarding the sites that remain, among other tasks. The Obama administration fell far short in its first budget, allocating slightly less than the Bush administration had done in its final year in office. But in this year’s budget, funds devoted to these purposes have been increased by a healthy 31%.

For more information on how to prevent nuclear terrorism and the summit, check out the Fissile Materials Working Group website.

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