Remarks on Progress Since the 2010 Washington Nuclear Security Summit

October 7, 2011


As President Obama stated in Prague in April 2009, nuclear terrorism remains our greatest threat. This judgment is based on three key facts: 1) Thousands of tons of nuclear material is present in dozens of states, much owned by private entities; 2) determined and capable terrorists and non state actors remain intent on acquiring weapons to kill millions; and 3) the targets and impacts of a nuclear terrorist attack are both global in scope.

The 2010 Washington Summit was a historic gathering of 50 global leaders who agreed on the seriousness of the nuclear terrorism threat, on the political will to act, and on the necessity of working together to reduce nuclear threats.

The Nuclear Security Summit was designed to energize, enhance, empower and elevate the many existing multilateral, cooperative institutions and structures aimed at securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear smuggling. The Summit process is not intended to replace or compete with established processes, nor is it intended to be permanent.

The 2010 Washington Summit created three main outcomes: a brief Communiqué, a more detailed Work Plan, and over 30 national statements with pledges to take particular steps to improve nuclear security. Significant progress towards improved nuclear security has already been made since April 2010. Some examples of this progress – by no means exhaustive – are presented here in the same structure as that of the 2010 Summit Work Plan.

The first key goal of the 2010 Summit was to reinforce and extend the International legal architecture that governs nuclear security. Since April 2010, 13 new countries have ratified the amended Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, and 12 new countries have ratified the International Convention on Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. At the UN, the UNSCR 1540 Committee’s mandate was extended, and the pledged US contribution of $3m to support its activities has been deposited for the Committee’s use.

The Summit was also designed to highlight and expand the central role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in supporting its member states in executing their sovereign responsibility to protect their nuclear materials. Since April 2010, the IAEA’s primary physical protection guidelines document (INFCIFC 225/5) has been updated and published. Recognizing that the Agency will need more resources to carry out the roles States are asking of it, the budget and number of voluntary donors to the Nuclear Security Fund has increased. The Agency has launched the NUSEC nuclear security information portal, to provide centralized information about nuclear security topics and activities in multiple venues and organizations. And several states have requested new advisory missions (IPPAS, INSSP) to review security provisions at the national and site level. Increasingly, the IAEA is performing a critical coordination role, and in May 2011 the Agency hosted a coordination meeting with other nuclear security activities, including the Global Initiative to Counter Nuclear Terrorism, the G8 Global Partnership, the World Institute for Nuclear Security, and others. In June 2011, the Agency held a coordination meeting among the myriad nuclear security support centers/Centers of Excellence that have sprung up since the last Summit, at which they reached agreement for the IAEA to continue to play a coordinating role, and to build a network, using the NUSEC web portal, among the centers to share information, curricula, class schedules, and so on.

The 2010 Summit also called for support for and coordination with other nuclear security activities, and since April 2010, four new states have joined the GICNT, and the G8GP was extended beyond its initial 2012 end point. Several Summit participants have also hosted regional outreach meetings to share insights and updates on Summit activities with other countries.

Of course, the heart of the Summit’s purpose was to increase security for highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, the essential elements of nuclear weapons. Since April 2010, upgrades have been completed for nuclear materials storage and transportation in several countries around the world. Almost 400 kg of HEU removed from 10 countries for safe elimination, and several research reactors have been converted from HEU to LEU fuel. Of course, the ultimate security solution is elimination; in this regard, Russia has eliminated 48 metric tons of excess HEU, and the US has eliminated 7 metric tons of excess HEU.

The key to sustainability in these materials upgrades is to ensure that national regulations reflect the current threats and risks associated with nuclear materials. Since the last Summit, several countries have updated their laws and regulations on nuclear security, including the US. Several countries are also reorganizing their regulatory bodies to enhance their independence.

Given the large quantities of HEU and plutonium owned and managed by the nuclear energy industry, the role of the private sector as a key player in securing nuclear material is critical. Since last April, the “Principles of Conduct” has been developed and accepted by all nuclear power plant exporters, which notably includes commitments on nuclear security. The World Institute of Nuclear Security has supported security practitioners with a range of best practice workshops and guides.

In building nuclear security, it ultimately comes down to the actions of individuals, which is why the Summit has emphasized the human dimension and capacity building for nuclear security. Since the first Summit, at least 12 national or regional centers for nuclear security training and research have been opened, and as noted earlier, they are forming themselves into a network to share information, best practices, and lessons learned in developing these important tools to enhance nuclear security.

In the event that nuclear materials should be stolen or lost, it is critical that all nations are able to play their roles in detecting and prosecuting illicit trafficking in nuclear materials. One way countries are beginning to implement the Work Plan is through counter nuclear smuggling teams that connect investigatory, intelligence and technical information to improve national capacities to interdict and recover nuclear materials. Adding to the law enforcement capacity in the nuclear area, INTERPOL has created a new radiological-nuclear center, and held its inaugural conference in May 2011.

Technology plays a key role in nuclear security, particularly in the area of nuclear detection and nuclear forensics, which is why they were highlighted in the Summit. Since then, the GICNT has set up working groups on nuclear detection and nuclear forensics explicitly to help make progress in this Summit priority area. New detection technologies have also been developed that reduce need for shrinking stocks of helium-3.

It would be an overstatement to suggest that these actions have come about exclusively as a result of the Nuclear Security Summit, but it is fair to say that they would almost certainly not all have transpired in the absence of the kind of high-level forcing effect that summits can have. Looking forward to the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, we expect to see even more accomplishments of commitments made in Washington, and new pledges of action that make real progress towards security nuclear materials, preventing nuclear terrorism and illicit trafficking, and making the world a safer place.