By Stephen Kaufman
IIP Staff Writer
Nuclear terrorism is one of the most serious and urgent threats to global security, with the danger that civilians and popular locations can be targeted with a “dirty bomb” or some other nuclear device that could kill hundreds of thousands of people.
President Obama said the more than 50 nations and international organizations meeting in Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit have committed themselves to “specific and concrete actions” to secure all loose nuclear materials by 2014, and their cooperation is improving the safety of people all over the world.
Speaking March 27 in Seoul, Obama said the international community is fulfilling the commitment it made in 2010 to prevent nuclear material from falling into the hands of terror groups or criminals within four years.
“We are improving security at our nuclear facilities. We are forging new partnerships. We are removing nuclear materials, and in some cases, getting rid of these materials entirely. And as a result, more of the world’s nuclear materials will never fall into the hands of terrorists who would gladly use them against us,” he said.
The president said he is encouraged by “the excellent participation” in the summit and the willingness of countries and organizations “not to talk, but to take action,” as well as a shared understanding that “no one nation can do this alone.”
The threat remains, he said, and there are “still too many bad actors in search of these dangerous materials, and these dangerous materials are still vulnerable in too many places.”
But the progress that has been made over the past two years “should fortify our will as we continue to deal with these issues. … I believe we must, because the security of the world depends on the actions that we take,” Obama said.
COOPERATION TO SECURE FORMER SOVIET TEST SITE IN KAZAKHSTAN
At the summit, it was revealed that the United States has been partnering with Russia and Kazakhstan for several years to rehabilitate the Soviet Union’s Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan and secure enough nuclear material to produce the equivalent of 12 nuclear bombs.
In remarks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Seoul March 27, Obama said the operation secured materials that had been vulnerable to potential smugglers and infiltrators and it offers “one of the most significant examples of what we’ve been doing through this Nuclear Security Summit.”
In a separate March 27 press briefing, White House adviser Ben Rhodes said that although the more than 40 tunnels at the testing site had been sealed in 2000, scavenger activity became apparent in the years that followed, and “this, coupled with our focus on nuclear terrorism, led to the launch of this trilateral effort … so that there couldn’t be the theft of the residual nuclear material at the site.”
Rhodes said over the past several years, “Kazakhstani work crews used U.S.-provided equipment to access the suspected areas based on Russian data to get at the material of concern.”
“This is a type of project that demonstrates how three different countries can work together to eliminate a nuclear threat. … We were able to reach the goal of being able to announce today that we’re wrapping up the project,” he said.
Rhodes said the task of securing the world’s loose nuclear material is “a solvable problem” that requires coordinated action, and the summit serves to gather heads of state to agree to take action and sign on to cooperative efforts.
“Different countries have different challenges. For some, it’s the challenge of disposing of nuclear materials. For some, it’s a challenge of increasing security at their nuclear facilities. For others, it’s joining on to cooperative efforts to crack down on smuggling,” he said.
Shawn Gallagher, the National Security Council’s director for nuclear threat reduction, outlined a number of other actions countries have taken to prevent materials from falling into the wrong hands. He said, “It really shows that countries are coming together and realizing that they need to work together to solve this problem — not something any single nation is going to be able to do on their own.”
According to Gallagher’s remarks and several facts sheets released by the White House:
• The United States and Russia have agreed to eliminate 17,000 nuclear weapons’ worth of plutonium over the next several years.
• Ukraine, Mexico and most recently Sweden have eliminated all of the nuclear material they had agreed to eliminate.
• Belgium, which will host the next Nuclear Security Summit, has announced it will work with the United States to eliminate its excess highly enriched uranium and plutonium by 2014.
• The United States announced an agreement with Belgium, the Netherlands and France to supply highly enriched uranium for European medical isotopes over the next two years in order to provide a supply for cancer and heart disease patients as European medical facilities transition away from using highly enriched uranium.
• Georgia and Moldova have taken action to seize highly enriched uranium on the black market to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands; Jordan has also announced it is creating a counter-nuclear-smuggling team.
“We’re linking all of these teams together and these national capabilities together as sort of a worldwide law enforcement and intelligence fusion of information and capabilities to really take concrete actions to break up the black market,” Gallagher told reporters.