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Leaders Target Loose Nuclear Material, Draft Communiqué Says

Leaders Target Loose Nuclear Material
A banner promoting the Nuclear Security Summit is displayed at the Convention and Exhibition Center (COEX) in Seoul. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

World leaders may pledge tighter controls over nuclear materials to keep them out of the hands of terrorists, according to the draft of a communique to be released at the end of their two-day meeting in Seoul.

Securing vulnerable nuclear material before the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2014 is the top priority, according to a copy of the six-page working document obtained by Bloomberg News. The draft, completed at a March 23 meeting of nuclear advisers attending the meetings in the South Korean capital, will be subject to debate at the gathering that ends tomorrow.

“One of the virtues of the nuclear security summit process is that all countries can agree that it is worthwhile to prevent nuclear terrorism, even if they cannot agree on proliferation, disarmament, and nuclear energy issues,” Matthew Bunn, a Harvard University professor and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, wrote today in an e-mailed response to questions.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev are among more than 40 leaders attending the meeting to stave off terrorist acquisition of nuclear material. The legacy of the Soviet Union’s breakup, inadequate atomic stockpile controls and the proliferation of nuclear-fuel technology mean the world has lost precise count of atomic material. At least 2 million kilograms (4.4 million pounds) of weapons-grade nuclear material is stockpiled, according to the Princeton, New Jersey-based International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Draft Changes

Some nations wanted the summit to “affirm that full and effective implementation” of nuclear treaties “has a vital role in promoting international peace and security,” according to a previous draft of the statement written Feb. 21 and also obtained by Bloomberg News.

North Korea dropped out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 while Iran has been accused of violating its statutes by seeking an atomic-weapons capability. Other nations like India, Israel and Pakistan aren’t members of the treaty.

“The summit participants include countries who want the nuclear weapon states to commit to rapid nuclear disarmament and states with nuclear weapons that absolutely oppose going to zero any time soon,” Bunn said.

The U.S. has a “unique responsibililty” and “moral obligation” when it comes to atomic weapons, President Barack Obama said today in a speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. “I say this as President of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons.”

Fukushima Meltdowns

The U.S. will seek talks with Russia to reduce strategic and tactical weapons and warheads in reserve, Obama said, adding that the U.S. has “more nuclear weapons than we need.”

Leaders at the summit will say that the March 2011 Fukushima Dai-Ichi meltdowns show that “sustained efforts” are needed to improve safety and security, according to the draft. They will also move to stop using high-enriched uranium to produce medical isotopes used in cancer treatments by next year, the document says.

Countries should enact legislation binding themselves to international conventions on nuclear terrorism and nuclear-material protection, according to the draft. While the U.S. Senate has approved both conventions, the House of Representatives hasn’t passed implementing legislation bringing the conventions into law.

“We’re at the beginning of a much different nuclear era,” Kenneth Luongo, President of the Partnership for Global Security and a former arms-control adviser at the Department of Energy, said in an interview in Seoul. “Nuclear power will begin growing in much more dangerous neighborhoods as the world population grows and energy demands increase.”

Dirty Bombs

The communiqué will also highlight the need to contain lower-level radioactive materials needed for so-called “dirty bombs,” support the creation of a nuclear-forensics database and encourage countries to share more police data on smuggling, according to the draft.

Leaders will issue the meeting’s final communiqué at 4:30 p.m. local time in Seoul tomorrow, summit spokesman Hahn Choong Hee said today at a press briefing. Leader’s won’t issue a separate work plan on the steps needed to contain nuclear material like they did in 2010, he said.

European leaders are being kept away from the summit because of political complications and budget conflicts, Hahn said. UK Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel aren’t attending the two-day meeting.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country will host the next summit in 2014, had to cancel his appearance because of budget negotiations, according to Hahn.

The absence of high-level leaders is “unfortunate,” Bunn said. “A key point of the summit process is to raise these issues to a level where decisions can be made that cut across agency boundaries.”

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