53 Nations Make Progress on Nuclear Security

SEOUL, South Korea, March 29, 2012 (ENS) – All loose nuclear material the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, one of the largest nuclear test sites in the world, has been secured, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev assured the Nuclear Security Summit this week in Seoul.

Located in northeast Kazakhstan, Semipalatinsk was the primary test site for the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. “About 500 nuclear tests were carried out on this test site, 70 of them in the open air,” said President Nazarbayev. “About 1,100 warheads have been deployed on military missiles on the territory of the polygon in military launching shafts.”

Nuclear test site bunker near the Semipalatinsk polygon (Photo by Jim Krehl)

The total area contaminated by radiation is about 40,000 square kilometers, and said Nazarbayeve, “as a result of tests in the past, about 1.5 million people have been radiated.”

“The polygon was closed by my first decree as the President of Kazakhstan 20 years ago, and since then, together with Russia and the United States, we have been working to rehabilitate the territory around the Semipalatinsk test site,” he said. “Since 2004, we were able to rehabilitate from radiation about 3,000 square kilometers of the polygon.”

Kazakhstan, together with Russia, the U.S., the UK and the International Atomic Energy Agency, secured spent nuclear fuel which contained enough highly enriched uranium and plutonium to make several hundred nuclear weapons by moving them to a new facility for a long-term storage in November 2010.

The United States and Russia have been working with Kazakhstan to decontaminate the site and lock down all loose nuclear material to keep it out of terrorist hands.

Their multilateral cooperation was presented at the Nuclear Security Summit as an example of the progress being made to secure nuclear material around the world.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev greet on another at the Nuclear Security Summit, March 27, 2012 (Photo courtesy The Kremlin)

President Barack Obama, who initiated biannual nuclear security summits two years ago in Washington, told reporters, “This kind of multilateral cooperation is being duplicated as a consequence of this Nuclear Security Summit. And it gives you a specific example of the kind of progress that we’re making. We’re going to need to make more progress over the next several years. But I am confident that we can actually meet the goal that we set in the first Washington summit, which is in four years to have made extraordinary progress in making sure that loose nuclear material is not vulnerable to smuggling or to potential terrorist plots.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, “Now, we can state with confidence that all the threats have been liquidated, and that the Semipalatinsk test site can now develop in a new capacity. The country of Kazakhstan can look into the future. So I believe that this is a good example of practical cooperation that should be highlighted.”

Medvedev said, “Although we’re aware that the situation we had was the result of the mindset of the past that countries had, we managed to show this good example of cooperation, and such example I believe should multiply, should be reproduced, and should also lead other countries to ensure nuclear security,”

Leaders of two nuclear nations meet at the Nuclear Security Summit: India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, left, with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, March 27, 2012 (Photo by MEAIndia)

Thirty-two countries made over 70 commitments on specific actions to enhance nuclear security at the Washington Summit, and the national progress reports submitted by these countries have shown that nearly all commitments have been achieved. Many commitments were made from participating countries at the Seoul Summit as was at the Washington Summit.

Since the Washington Summit, around 480 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, HEU, from eight countries have been removed for disposal, an amount enough to produce about 19 nuclear weapons. In addition, several countries newly committed to repatriate their unneeded HEU.

In particular, Ukraine and Mexico accomplished a total “cleanout” of all stockpiles of HEU just prior to the Seoul Summit by returning them to Russia and the United States, respectively.

During the past two years since the Washington Summit, HEU equivalent to around 3,000 nuclear weapons in Russia and the United States has been downblended to low enriched uranium, LEU.

The Seoul Communique, issued by the 58 heads of state and government attending the Nuclear Security Summit, encourages participants by the end of 2013 to announce voluntary specific actions to minimize HEU.

Russia and the United States are working on implementing the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement signed between the two countries at the Washington Summit. When implemented, the agreement will result in the disposal of 68 metric tons of plutonium, enough for 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, left, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and President Barack Obama at the Nuclear Security Summit (Photo courtesy Office of President Saakashvili)

The Czech Republic, Mexico and Vietnam have converted their research reactors using HEU fuel to LEU fuel since the Washington Summit.

In addition, Belgium, France, South Korea and the United States announced a joint project on developing high-density LEU fuel which aims to replace HEU fuels in high performance research reactors. The technology is based on the centrifugal atomization method developed by South Korea.

Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United States announced a joint project to convert the production of medical isotope molybdenum-99 from the use of HEU targets to LEU targets. The leaders said this effort represents “meaningful progress both in terms of enhancing human welfare and eliminating the threat of nuclear terrorism.”

Since the Washington Summit, 20 additional countries have ratified the amended Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; currently 55 states are parties the convention. At the Nuclear Security Summit, participants agreed to work together to bring it into force by 2014, as stated in the Seoul Communique.

Meanwhile, 14 countries have newly ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, increasing the number of states party to the Convention to 79.

Among the 34 countries which have newly joined the two conventions, 18 countries are participants in the Nuclear Security Summit. Over 10 additional countries are proceeding with the process of the ratification of the two conventions.

Fifty-one countries that were at the Nuclear Security Summit are participants in the IAEA’s Illicit Trafficking Database; Singapore became the newest participant early this March.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, left, Yukiya Amano, center, IAEA director general, and Interpol Chief Ronald Noble at the Nuclear Security Summit, (Photo by Yonhap courtesy Interpol)

At the summit, a number of joint proposals were made on countering nuclear smuggling and on the security of radioactive sources. Japan released a statement on transport security jointly with France, South Korea, the UK and the United States. Participants agreed to enhance international cooperation on nuclear forensics which will enable the identification of the origin of stolen nuclear materials.

Leaders at the Nuclear Security Summit pledged to strengthen cooperation and encourage greater information-sharing with Interpol to combat illicit trafficking in nuclear material.

Addressing the meeting, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said the risk of nuclear and radiological materials of being smuggled was very clear, pointing to the intelligence gathered on more than 2,700 cases as part of Interpol’s Project Geiger within the framework of the organization’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives program.

“Our common goal is to ensure that the single case which we have yet to face will never materialize,” said Noble. “Preventing the scenario of nuclear material being successfully smuggled and used in an improvised device will require rapid and secure law enforcement communication across borders, the capacity to identify and track individuals involved in trafficking in the field, and fast, coordinated multinational action.”

Many nuclear security conferences and workshops are planned before the next Nuclear Security Summit is held in 2014 in the Netherlands.

The United States plans to host a first International Regulators Conference on Nuclear Security by the end of this year; France plans to host an international conference in 2012 to assist the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, blocks “non-State actors” from developing, acquiring, manufacturing, possessing, transporting, transferring or using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems.

Sweden plans to host the second Interpol Radiological and Nuclear Trafficking and Terrorism Analysis Conference in April; Mexico will host the 2013 Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism Plenary Meeting; and the Netherlands will organize a tabletop exercise in November to foster international cooperation in the field of nuclear forensics. Finland plans to host the IAEA International Workshop on Nuclear Security Culture in the fall.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.