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Nuclear security conference commits ... to holding more conferences

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green, Friends of the Earth, Australia (and editor of the Nuclear Monitor)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) hosted a conference titled 'International Conference on Nuclear Security: Enhancing Global Efforts' from July 1−5 in Vienna. [1] There were more than 1,300 registered participants, including 34 government ministers, from 125 countries.

In his closing statement to the Conference, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said: "This Conference has been an important milestone for nuclear security. The Ministerial Statement, from an inclusive global forum, sends a strong message that nuclear security is recognized as a priority by Governments."

Few shared that generous opinion. One of the few solid commitments from the conference was a commitment to hold more conferences. Maybe. The Ministerial Declaration calls on the IAEA "to consider organizing international conferences on nuclear security every three years."

The conference did not result in any strengthening of the patchwork of mostly non-binding, mostly underfunded nuclear security initiatives around the world. Kissinger, Nunn, Perry and Shulz noted in a March 2013 article that "no global system is in place for tracking, accounting for, managing and securing all weapons-usable nuclear materials." [2] The same can be said for the broader range of nuclear and radioactive materials that can be used in dirty bombs.

The Ministerial Declaration encourages nations to fully implement existing international accords, including the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and a 2005 amendment to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz acknowledged that the US remains outside the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, but claimed that the US is a leader on nuclear security because the President made a speech on the topic (!) and the US government intends to host a conference on the topic in 2016 (!!). [3]

A report released by the Arms Control Association and the Partnership for Global Security details actions that the 53 countries that participated in the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in South Korea have taken since the meeting. [4] It notes that there has been some progress − for example 22 countries have taken steps to "prevent the smuggling of illicit radioactive materials by enhancing transport security, expanding border controls and developing new detection and monitoring technologies." But still the emphasis seems to be on talk-fests − 44 countries have hosted nuclear security workshops, conferences or exercises. The NGOs state that "the largely nationally focused efforts to date are inadequate" and that the lack of universal reporting requirements makes it difficult to assess the overall progress of the security summit process.

International Atomic Energy Agency
The Ministerial Declaration affirmed "the central role of the IAEA in strengthening the nuclear security framework globally and in leading the coordination of international activities in the field of nuclear security."

Many delegates called for an expanded role for the IAEA. Miles Pomper from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies expressed scepticism, noting that member states would have to agree to fund such expanded security activities through the IAEA's regular budget, but current funding for security work relies on voluntary contributions made on an irregular basis. [5] The Ministerial Declaration went no further than to recognise "the importance of the IAEA having access to appropriate resources and expertise to undertake its work, including through further voluntary contributions to the IAEA's Nuclear Security Fund by existing and new donors."

As of 2008, the IAEA relied on voluntary funding for 90% of its nuclear security program, 30% of its nuclear safety program, and 15% of its verification/safeguards program [6]. Mohamed El Baradei, then IAEA Director-General, told the IAEA Board of Governors in 2009: "I will be cheating world public opinion to be creating the impression that we are doing what we're supposed to do, when we know we don't have the money to do it."

Limited scope
Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, noted in 2009 that "even so-called arms controllers fall over themselves trying to establish their bona fides by supporting nuclear energy development and devising painless proposals ..." [7] That mentality was in evidence at the IAEA nuclear security conference. The Ministerial Declaration calls upon states "to ensure that measures to strengthen nuclear security do not hamper international cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear activities."

Gilinsky advocates a reversal of priorities: "Security should come first − not as an afterthought. We should support as much nuclear power as is consistent with international security; not as much security as the spread of nuclear power will allow."

Fukushima illustrates one of the issues that ought to be addressed under the umbrella of nuclear security. Kenneth Luongo from the Partnership for Global Security said that the disaster highlighted the fact that the international community does not "have an adequate system for dealing with radiation that crosses borders." He noted that "Fukushima blurred the line between nuclear safety and nuclear security." [8]

Matthew Bunn, a Harvard University professor and former White House adviser, said at a recent briefing: "Fukushima sent a message to terrorists that if you manage to cause a nuclear power plant to melt down, that really causes major panic and disruption in a society. ... All you need to do to do that is cut off the power for an extended period of time." [9]

Conventional military strikes on nuclear plants by nation-states is another issue that the nation-states assembled in Vienna were reluctant to address.

References and Sources
1. IAEA, July 2013, 'IAEA Ministerial Meeting Concludes With Focus on Stronger Nuclear Security',
2. Henry A. Kissinger, Sam Nunn, William J. Perry, George P. Shultz, 5 March 2013, 'Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Risks: The Pace of Nonproliferation Work Today Doesn't Match the Urgency of the Threat', Wall Street Journal,
3. Douglas P. Guarino, 1 July 2013, 'In Vienna, a Focus on National Responsibility for Nuclear Materials Security', Global Security Newswire,
4. Arms Control Association and the Partnership for Global Security, 1 July 2013, The Nuclear Security Summit: Progress Report,
5. Rachel Oswald, 19 July 2013, 'U.S. Energy Chief Hopes for Bigger IAEA Role in Global Nuclear Security', Global Security Newswire,
6. IAEA, 2008, '20/20 Vision for the Future: Background Report by the Director General for the Commission of Eminent Persons',
7. Victor Gilinsky, 'A call to resist the nuclear revival', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 January 2009,
8. Douglas P. Guarino, 14 March 2012, 'U.S. Defends Narrow Focus for Nuclear Security Summit', Global Security Newswire,
9. Jonathan Tirone, 4 July 2013, 'Fukushima Shows Nuclear-Terrorism Risks at UN Meeting',

US officials warn of risks in the Middle East and North Africa

Obama administration officials have warned of the possibility that nations in Africa and the Middle East could become sources of sensitive components or materials for weapons of mass destruction. Simon Limage, deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation programs, told "In North Africa and the Middle East, you have terrorist organisations, unstable governments, in some cases actual civil conflict and lack of control over sovereign territory. In the former Soviet Union we still have remaining challenges, but we are dealing with relatively stable governments with which we have a history of engagement." Anne Harrington, a US Energy Department nonproliferation official, said concerns extend beyond those regions, citing Pakistan.

Earlier this year, Algerian customs officers discovered radioactive waste in three containers shipped from China to Algiers' port. The containers were imported by an Algerian businessman, North Africa Post reported on May 18: "The origin and the final destination the radioactive cargo have not yet been determined but the investigators suspect international traffickers of nuclear waste to be involved in the affair as Africa is seemingly becoming a dumpster of radioactive waste for greedy international corporations and super powers."

'U.S. Officials: Dirty Bomb Risk in Mideast, Africa Unprecedented', 14 June 2013,
Radioactive Waste Found in Algiers Port, 18 May 2013,