Monday, March 19, 2012

Seoul Nuclear Security Summit

From CSIS:

Seoul Nuclear Security SummitSharon Squassoni
March 19, 2012

On March 26 and 27 in Seoul, the Republic of Korea will host the second Nuclear Security Summit. Leaders from 53 countries and from international organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency and Interpol are expected to attend. Both the number of countries and topics have been slightly expanded from the first Nuclear Security Summit, held in Washington in April 2010. Side events include concurrent meetings held by experts and industry leaders on March 23.
Q1: Why a summit on nuclear security now and in Seoul?
A1: In 2010, President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea proposed to President Obama to host a second nuclear security summit in Seoul in 2012. This is the mid-way point of the commitment made at the 2010 summit: to secure the world’s most vulnerable nuclear materials from terrorists over four years. Most bets are on the Netherlands to host one more summit in 2014.
South Korea is no stranger to nuclear threats, mostly emanating from its neighbor to the North. South Korea, which does not possess nuclear weapons or any of the most sensitive nuclear materials like highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium (which can be used for reactor fuel or for nuclear weapons), has a sophisticated nuclear power program and a huge stake in ensuring the all nuclear endeavors are safe, secure, and reduce proliferation risks.
Q2: Will this nuclear security summit be a replay of the 2010 summit?
A2: The South Koreans have stated that the 2012 summit will not be a “cut and paste” of the last one. A major objective of the Washington summit was to gain support among at least 47 leaders of the importance of ensuring that terrorists do not gain access to nuclear materials. Those leaders and a few more will gather again in Seoul to assess progress since 2010. The focus will continue to be on the most vulnerable material, but the agenda will seek to gain a few more specific commitments on other issues, like security of radiological materials (that could be used in “dirty bombs”), countering nuclear smuggling through collaboration in border and export controls, and the security of nuclear facilities, not just materials. The Republic of Korea is likely to urge states to ratify all the relevant conventions and agreements, improve collaboration, and make specific national commitments, colloquially known as “house gifts.” South Korea has also been keen to stress the interaction of nuclear safety and nuclear security in the wake of the devastating accident at the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants.
Q3: What is the real nuclear security threat?
A3: Worldwide, there are about 1,400 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and about 500 tons of separated plutonium. These are weapons-usable materials that could make at least 100,000 nuclear weapons. Most of these materials are in the United States, Russia, and a handful of other states, but there are still tons of HEU in use in research reactors. Critics of the summit say more “nuclear security” could be gained by taking the hard steps that have been avoided so far: deep, irreversible cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and stockpiles (i.e., real progress toward disarmament); abandoning commercial separation of spent nuclear fuel in France, Japan, Russia, and other states (half the plutonium is in the civil fuel cycle); and/or a treaty to ban production of fissile material for nuclear weapons that includes India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Still others suggest that terrorist capabilities to devise nuclear weapons is limited and that focus instead should be trained on radiological materials, which are much more vulnerable and could be used for dirty bombs—weapons that spread radiation but don’t have a nuclear yield.
No matter where the material is located or how it is used, every country that possesses nuclear material needs to ensure rigorous control.
Q4: Don’t North Korea and Iran pose bigger nuclear security threats?
A4: North Korea and Iran pose significant nuclear threats, even risks of passing on their nuclear capabilities to terrorist organizations. There are a few reasons why they were not on the agenda in Washington in 2010 or on the agenda for Seoul this year. First, there is no real need for a summit to bring these problems to center stage. Both North Korea and Iran continue to be on the top of the list of nuclear threats to many countries. In contrast, nuclear security often fails to rise to the top of the list, which translates into weak links in the system that can be exploited. There is no excuse for not taking preventive measures. Second, the complicated negotiations and other actions that need to be undertaken with North Korea and Iran require other kinds of meetings, particularly with a smaller number of states. Third, the primary objective with respect to North Korea is verified dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program, while the primary objective with Iran is to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Q5: Why isn’t this summit about nuclear safety? Aren’t nuclear security and safety the same thing?
A5: Since the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants in Japan, nuclear safety has been continually in the news. Several high-level meetings have been held at the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, and several more are likely to comb through the lessons of the Fukushima accident. Nuclear safety and security are not the same thing, although they both have a common objective: to protect the public and the environment from releases of radiation. In the case of nuclear safety, the approach assumes the release is unintended, while nuclear security seeks to prevent efforts to intentionally release radiation. However, nuclear safety and nuclear security should reinforce each other. The intersection of best practices for both is likely to be a topic at the summit. (For more information, see Kenneth Luongo et al., “Integrating Nuclear Safety and Security,” CSIS, December 2011,
Sharon Squassoni is senior fellow and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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