Obama's nuclear conference only the beginning
By Chris Cermak and Anne K Walters Apr 14, 2010, 1:56 GMT
Washington - President Barack Obama's unprecedented nuclear security summit ended with a series of promises to secure stockpiles, but experts worry the moves may not go far enough toward making the world safer, without a clear financial commitment.
In a communique released at the summit's conclusion, leaders and top officials from 47 countries agreed Tuesday to take steps to better secure dangerous nuclear material from falling into terrorist hands.
The largest summit hosted by a US president in more than six decades promised closer international cooperation to secure nuclear stockpiles within four years and to curtail proliferation.
They agreed to strengthen existing international safeguards for nuclear material and to give a greater role in the effort to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear monitoring body.
But while the summit contained commitments from countries on better securing their own nuclear materials, it remains to be seen whether they will follow through on those pledges in the next four years.
'The commitments need to be delivered on, and they need to be delivered on in a very fast order,' said Kenneth Luongo, head of the Partnership for Global Security, a Washington-based advocacy group for better securing weapons of mass destruction. 'There's a lot more that needs to be done to secure these materials.'
Obama acknowledged the need for countries to follow through on the pledges outlined in Tuesday's communique and announced plans to hold a second summit in 2012 in South Korea to assess progress. He said officials from participating countries will meet regularly in the future.
'This has been a day of great progress. But, as I said this morning, this can't be a fleeting moment,' he said in his concluding remarks. 'Securing nuclear materials must be a serious and sustained global effort.'
While the summit may have been a success for bringing such a large number of leaders together, Luongo pointed to a lack of financial resources offered to back up the commitments. Obama, along with Canada, suggested a 10-billion-dollar global fund for nuclear security but offered no details.
'We should be looking for near-term action on the resources front, not long-term access on the resources front,' said Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard University.
For example, while the summit agreed to an important role for the IAEA, it did not address how to finance an expansion of the watchdog agency. The European Union promised additional money for the IAEA but gave no specific amounts.
'I welcome as much money as possible,' IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said, when asked how much money the IAEA would need to boost its nuclear security efforts. 'We have done a lot, but we can do more with further support from member states.'
He stressed that it was up to each individual country, not international bodies, to ensure that their nuclear stockpiles are secure, but said the IAEA stands ready to offer assistance and training if asked.
In advance of the summit, some independent organizations that advocate for a reduction in nuclear arms and enhanced security expressed concern that the goals of the summit fell short of thoroughly addressing the problem.
Luongo said the summit should have more fully addressed the use of radiological material in relatively unsecured sites, such as medical and research facilities, which are 'probably a more immediate threat' than that posed by nuclear weapons.
Though less devastating than a nuclear device, experts worry that radioactive material is more readily accessible and easier to use as a 'dirty bomb' to spread radioactive contamination across a populated area.
Still, observers said the summit could change the nuclear landscape in the coming years, by adding momentum to efforts to get countries to abandon their stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium - used to make nuclear weapons - and convert civilian nuclear reactors to safer, low-enriched nuclear fuel.
Ukraine, Mexico and Canada all promised to get rid of their highly-enriched uranium stockpiles. Chile transferred the last of its fuel to the United States just before the summit began. The United States and Russia have pledged to dispose of large amounts of weapons-grade plutonium stockpiles.
Bunn said there was a 'real prospect' that the number of countries holding uranium could be cut in half by the time of the next nuclear security summit in 2012 in South Korea.
'That would be a major step in the right direction,' he said.