Nuclear Summit Aims to Keep Fissile Materials from Terrorists

Posted March 26th, 2012 at 6:40 am (UTC-5)
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Almost lost at the moment, amid concern over a scheduled North Korean missile launch, is the official purpose of the two-day nuclear summit opening Monday in Seoul – to make sure that nuclear materials never fall into the hands of terrorists.

That goal has been a signature issue for U.S. President Barack Obama, who announced early in his term that he would lead a global effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials. He pushed the effort forward with the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington two years ago.

Organizers of the summit said, after a working dinner for summit participants Monday, that significant progress has been made since then. Mr. Obama announced on Sunday that Ukraine has removed all highly enriched uranium (HEU) from its soil, fulfilling a pledge made at the 2010 summit.

Kazakhstan, once host to part of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, has secured more than 13 tons of HEU and plutonium in the past two years, while the United States and Russia have agreed to dispose of enough plutonium for 17,000 nuclear weapons.

However, the International Panel on Fissile Materials – an independent group of specialists from 16 countries – says global stocks of HEU stand at more than 1,400 tons while nations maintain about 500 tons of plutonium. About half of that plutonium is suitable for making nuclear weapons.

Forty-seven countries attended the international panel's Washington summit, where they agreed to maintain effective security over all nuclear materials.

Organizers say this week's summit in Seoul, attended by more than 50 countries, will also discuss ways to protect nuclear materials used in everyday life and how to apply nuclear safety lessons to making nuclear power more safe.

Analysts say the leaders may also discuss ways to cooperate more closely to improve border controls and ensure against nuclear smuggling.