2016 Nuclear Knowledge Summit: Solutions for a Secure Nuclear Future

Opening address by Paul F. Walker, Green Cross International and the Fissile Material Working Group

J.W. Marriott Hotel
Washington DC, USA
Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the fourth Nuclear Security Summit conference for civil society and non-governmental experts. As many of you here are well aware, we have organized or helped organized these international gatherings since the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010, right here in Washington DC, and followed with a second such public gathering in Seoul, South Korea in 2012, and then a third in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in 2014.

All of these past conferences and dialogues, in cooperation with the official governmental summits as well as with industry conferences, have been very important and historic milestones towards building a more secure global community with robust practices to lock down and minimize use of fissile materials and radioactive sources around the world, thereby limiting risks of theft, diversion, and proliferation to non-state actors.

US President Barack Obama introduced the concept of Nuclear Security Summits in 2009 when he stated in his now famous Prague speech that nuclear terrorism “is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” To mitigate this threat, the President urged that “we act with purpose and without delay,” announcing “a new international effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material around the world” that would begin with “a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host.”

Since the first Summit just six years ago when four dozen national leaders convened here in Washington DC, there has been substantial progress toward meeting some of the ambitious goals of this process:

  • Minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium (Pu);
  • Strengthening security at nuclear facilities and during transportation of fissile materials through enhanced national regulations and implementation of best practices;
  • Expanding and enhancing membership in international agreements and organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency;
  • Instituting measures to detect and prevent illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials; and
  • Establishing Centers of Excellence to build capacity, develop technology, train workers, and coordinate assistance on nuclear security.
  • There isn’t sufficient time now to list all of the specific accomplishments by many countries over the past six years, but a representative sample would include the following major successes:
    Removing and/or disposing of over 3,800 kilograms of vulnerable weapons-grade fissile materials, sufficient for over 150 nuclear weapons;
  • Completely removing highly enriched uranium from 16 countries – Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Jamaica, Libya, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam;
  • Verifiably shutting down or successfully converting 31 HEU research reactors and isotope production facilities to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel use in 18 countries – Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and others;
  • Installing radiation detection equipment at 329 international border crossings, airports, and seaports in 36 countries to combat illicit trafficking in nuclear materials;
  • Securing the most dangerous radiological sources such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 in 22 of 23 countries which jointly committed to do so at the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014;
  • Ratifying the Amendment to the 1979 CPPNM (the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material) which expands such protective measures to nuclear facilities; over the last six months we’ve seen six new ratifications from Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Iceland, Morocco, Paraguay, and just six days ago, Pakistan; And
  • Signing on to joint NSS statements by 48 countries (46 in 2014 and 43 in 2012) and committing to various actions by 53 countries.

These are all significant and important accomplishments, but we all know that much still remains to be done. Here are a few representative challenges:

  • There are a number of nuclear-capable countries, which shall remain unnamed, which still have significant nuclear security weaknesses and vulnerabilities – for example, no on-site armed guards to protect them. Some accounting systems would not be sensitive enough to detect slow, bit-by-bit thefts of nuclear material. Some countries still perform no background checks before granting access to sensitive materials and facilities. Many nuclear organizations have no program in place to strengthen their nuclear security culture.
  • The important CPPNM Amendment providing for nuclear security at nuclear facilities, which opened for signature in 2005, still lacks eight ratifications for entry into force.
  • There are over 120 research and training reactors around the world which still utilize highly enriched uranium and have minimal security enhancements. Russia still operates two tritium production reactors and a breeder reactor, fueled with HEU.
  • The ongoing threats of non-state actors and terrorist groups to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction underline the seriousness of these risks. One need only point to the use of chemical weapons by non-state actors in the Middle East in the past year to underline the danger here. Or the recent evidence from Belgium about the vulnerability of nuclear power plants and research facilities to sabotage and infiltration.
  • The global stockpile of HEU, as reported by the International Panel on Fissile Materials, stands at about 1,370 tons, enough for more than 76,000 nuclear weapons. The great majority of this tonnage remains in Russia, the US, and other nuclear weapons states, but at least three countries – India, Pakistan, and possibly North Korea are continuing to produce HEU for weapons purposes.
  • Over 150 nuclear-powered submarines and ships, belonging primarily to the US and Russian navies, still use HEU as propulsion fuel.
  • HEU “neutron” targets are still being used for medical isotope production in several countries.
  • The global stockpile of plutonium is about 505 tons, produced for both weapons and commercial purposes, with about 98 percent of all separated plutonium stored in nuclear weapon states. Neither Russia nor the US has yet started disposing of its excess plutonium – 34 tons each, and 53 tons owned by Japan still sits in France and Britain.
  • Radiological materials, used worldwide for important medical and industrial applications, can also be used for an improvised dirty bomb, and are located at thousands of sites in over 100 countries today, as recently reported by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. One can only imagine what the recent Brussels Airport and subway bombings would have been like if the blasts had included radioactive materials.
  • Nearly 2,800 incidents involving radioactive material getting out of regulatory control have been reported to the IAEA by Member States since 1995. In 2013 and 2014 there were over 325 publicly reported incidents globally in which nuclear or other radiological material was lost, stolen, or missing from regulatory control, as reported by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

This selected list of major challenges can be overwhelming, but this is why the Steering Committee of the Fissile Material Working Group, representing 80 non-governmental experts and organizations across the globe, have signed on to a statement from the organizers for this summit session outlining five key goals for future and ongoing global nuclear security efforts:

  • Comprehensiveness – All nuclear weapons and nuclear materials that could be used to make a nuclear bomb, whether military or civilian, must be effectively and sustainably protected against the full range of plausible threats. Nuclear facilities whose sabotage could cause a major catastrophe, must also be well protected. Vulnerable radiological sources must be secured and tracked or replaced with alternate technologies, where applicable.
  • Sustainability – Nuclear security efforts must focus on continuous improvement and a never-ending quest for excellence. Governments, international organizations, nuclear industry, and civil society must all work together to ensure that effective collaboration among them continues after the summit process ends, and that opportunities are created for making and implementing decisions, garnering high-level political attention, and targeting resources where they are most needed.
  • Focus on Minimization – States should work to consolidate nuclear weapons and fissile materials to the smallest possible number of locations and reduce these stockpiles. A time-bound road map is needed for eliminating the civil use of HEU and minimizing the stocks, use, and processing of separated plutonium. Stronger nuclear security can be achieved at lower cost by protecting fewer locations and a reduced volume of materials.
  • Rigour – Every nation should commit to stringent, common international nuclear security performance objectives and principles that go well beyond current requirements and recommendations. They should share and implement nuclear security best practices, strengthen nuclear security culture, and assess where further improvements are needed. All security-relevant staff should have professional training and certification. And finally,
  • Confidence-building – All states should accept regular peer reviews and provide non-sensitive information on their nuclear security practices and standards to build international confidence in the effectiveness of nuclear security in every nation.

These are challenges and issues that transcend the nuclear security summit process and are relevant for future generations. While the summits have focused our attention and allowed our community to coalesce around these important issues, the high-level summits are now ending. But, our cooperation must not. We must remain a cohesive international entity of nuclear policy specialists, willing to analyze the nuclear security challenges the global community faces and to provide solutions for a secure nuclear future. We have made great strides not only in the achievement of nuclear security objectives, but also in organizing ourselves to collectively address these issues and also with other key stakeholders that have significant equity in these issues, including governments, international institutions, and nuclear industry. We must continue to march forward collectively to ensure the continuous improvement of the global nuclear security system.

With that as a brief introduction to today’s very interesting presentations and discussions, let me finish by acknowledging and thanking the important support of the Stanley Foundation of Muscatine, Iowa; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of Chicago; and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. I would also like to acknowledge the many volunteer hours committed by the 80+ members of the FMWG, especially the Steering Committee and the co-chairs, Ken Luongo of the Partnership for Global Security and Miles Pomper of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and by our coordinating director, Lesley McNeish.

And to end, I will repeat a Nelson Mandela quote, used by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Rutte went on to state: “Let us press on in that conviction – today, tomorrow, and in the days that follow – towards our goal of a safer world.”