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Diplomacy in Action

Preventing Nuclear Terrorism: The Nuclear Security Summit and Beyond

National Press Club
Washington, DC
March 13, 2012


(Disclaimer: These are the minutes of the Fissile Materials Working Group Meeting of March 13, 2012. These minutes are a product of an NGO policy forum discussion, and do not necessarily represent the views of the State Department or the United States Government.)


The Stanley Foundation in conjunction with the Fissile Materials Working Group held a Press Conference for U.S. and International journalists at the National Press Club on March 13, 2012. Several NGO experts briefed the journalists on the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, announcing what has been accomplished to date since the Washington Nuclear Security Summit in 2010; what we can expect in Seoul next week (March 25-26); and what is next after Seoul.

There is near universal agreement among experts that nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats facing the world, yet – until recently – efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials have not been commensurate with the threat. The repercussions of a nuclear attack would be global. The world economy, tourism and civil liberties would all be affected. Though nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security, it is preventable. The NSS in 2010 was a good first step in overcoming international inertia and resulted in specific commitments by countries to bring nuclear materials under control.

The Arms Control Association (ACA) - Partnership for Global Security (PGS) report “The Nuclear Security Summit: Assessment of National Commitments,” released March 13, 2012, is an assessment of the implementation of these national commitments.

Approximately 80% of these voluntary commitments have been completed, but are a small fraction of efforts that are needed to secure nuclear materials and prevent nuclear terrorism.

Minutes of the Meeting

Alexandra Toma (Moderator):

  • There is near universal agreement among experts that nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats facing the world, yet – until recently – efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials have not been commensurate with the threat.
  • The bipartisan 9/11 commission and other blue-ribbon panels have repeatedly warned of the threat posed by terrorists actively seeking nuclear weapons and the materials to make them.
  • The IAEA has confirmed 20 separate cases of theft or loss of nuclear material to date. And that’s what we know about.
  • Just last fall, for example, Moldovan police arrested six people for smuggling nuclear bomb-making materials and are still looking for a seventh that evaded capture.
  • Add this to the fact that the global stockpile of nuclear materials is large enough to build more than 100,000 additional nuclear bombs – and that you only need a grapefruit-sized amount for a crude nuclear bomb – and that this material continues to accumulate in unstable regions of the world.
  • The repercussions of a nuclear attack would be global. The world economy, tourism and civil liberties would all be affected.
  • The good news is that though nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security, it is also one of the most preventable.
  • The NSS in 2010 was a good first step in overcoming international inertia and resulted in specific commitments by countries to bring nuclear materials under control.
  • Today, we will hear from several experts on the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) – what has been accomplished to date; what we can expect in Seoul next week; and what is next after Seoul.

Kelsey Davenport: The Nuclear Security Summit: Assessment of National Commitments

  • Representatives from 47 countries and 3 international organizations gathered for the 2010 NSS, where they endorsed the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years. They also signed onto the Summit communique and work plan. In addition, 30 countries signed on to additional national commitments.
  • The Arms Control Association (ACA) - Partnership for Global Security (PGS) report “The Nuclear Security Summit: Assessment of National Commitments,” released today, is an assessment of the implementation of these national commitments.
  • Approximately 80% of these voluntary commitments have been completed, but are a small fraction of efforts that are needed to secure nuclear materials and prevent nuclear terrorism.
  • Some highlights of fulfilled commitments include:
    • 9 nations fulfilled their pledge to develop Centers of Excellence to enhance nuclear security culture;
    • Removal of all Highly Enriched Uranium from Chile, which could be used to construct a nuclear weapon; and
    • New funding support for the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund, HEU reactor conversion and material removals, and anti-smuggling initiatives contributed by Belgium, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
    • Kazakhstan cooperated with the United States to shut down its BN-350 plutonium-production reactor and secured more than ten tons of HEU and 3 tons of weapons-grade plutonium.
    • The U.S.-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement entered into force, requiring the two nations to secure enough weapons-grade material for constructing 17,000 weapons.
  • Since the 2010 NSS, the U.S. has removed over 400 kg of HEU and plutonium and downblended 700 kilograms of HEU from the civil nuclear programs of countries around the world.
  • 19 countries ratified the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (three as a result of national commitments

Michelle Cann: The Nuclear Security Summit: Assessment of National Commitments

  • A lot of the low-hanging fruit was picked at the 2010 Summit. This makes sustaining momentum at the 2012 NSS difficult.
  • Much more work remains to be done to secure all nuclear materials and prevent nuclear terrorism.
  • It is important to emphasize that even if 100% of the commitments are completed there is still much more work to do. The four year goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials is not well suited to crafting a new nuclear security regime. Nations must focus on continuous nuclear security improvement.
  • Tracking progress on the effort to secure nuclear material and prevent nuclear terrorism is a difficult one. The ACA-PGS report and other tracking reports like the NTI Nuclear Materials Security Index do a great job from what is publicly available.
  • However, nations involved in the NSS process didn’t agree to any sort of standardized reporting system. They agreed to voluntarily report on progress without any format.
  • Furthermore, the four year goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials was never clearly defined. Thus, the only way to track the effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials is through anecdotal evidence.

William Tobey: Expectations for the Seoul Summit

  • The 2010 NSS advanced international nuclear security in three respects:
    • It developed consensus among world leaders on the threat of nuclear terrorism;
    • It committed world leaders to the goal of securing all vulnerable materials in four years;
    • And, it produced a work plan and communique to guide national efforts on nuclear security.
  • However, the 2010 NSS also had a number of deficiencies, including:
    • There is no agreed-upon assessment on the nature of the threat;
    • There are no agreed baseline standards for nuclear security measures;
    • No leader was willing to acknowledge security deficiencies, and we know that there have been 20 confirmed cases of theft or loss of fissile material – the material needed for constructing a nuclear weapon - in the past twenty years.
  • How well have the governments done in the face of this major problem? How can the Seoul Summit overcome the flaws of the Washington Summit? Unfortunately, the prospects for the Seoul Summit are considerably bleaker than what has been reported.
  • The four year goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials will almost surely not be met; vulnerable nuclear material will remain. The Belfer Center has a new “Nuclear Security Summit Dossier” website where Matt Bunn will shortly post a new report on international efforts to complete this goal.
  • There is not cause for optimism that the Seoul Summit will overcome the flaws of the Washington Summit. There could even be some regression. The 2010 Summit relied upon and depleted the pipeline of available projects. It will be more difficult for governments to make progress at the Summit later this month.
  • Markers of outstanding progress at the 2012 Summit include:
    • there should be a consensus recognition that nuclear security is a significant problem and action is needed;
    • baseline standards for nuclear security should be developed;
    • countries should commit to continuous nuclear security improvement;
    • HEU conversions should continue to accelerate, with a goal to end the civil use of HEU by a certain date;
    • Accelerated ratification of nuclear security conventions.

Kenneth Luongo: Innovating Nuclear Security Governance

  • The nuclear material security regime currently suffers from a fundamental flaw: it is completely nationally focused and a patchwork arrangement.
  • We are not talking about nonproliferation or arms control. We are talking about stockpiles of fissile material that could be used by terrorists to build a nuclear weapon. Efforts to improve security of these materials and end their production fall into the nuclear security category.
  • Why Seoul? They volunteered. Korea is also a global bridge on this issue that serves a few important purposes.
    • Korea is a bridge between the G8 and G20. As developing countries become more empowered financially, the G20 needs to be more involved.
    • Korea is a major nuclear player, but a non-weapon state.
    • They are also a technical leader.
  • The Seoul Summit has to be a pivot point for improving the nuclear security regime that we have.
  • Innovating Nuclear Security Governance is an issue that the Koreans can take ownership of. There are not a lot of countries that are trying to improve nuclear security governance.
  • Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Ho-young recently stated that "[t]here is a serious gap in global governance in the nuclear security area,” while acknowledging his hopes that the Seoul Summit will lay the “building blocks” for global governance.
  • Many deficiencies in the nuclear security regime have been addressed in the nuclear safety regime: Lack of peer review and international transparency, no uniformity of standards and regulations, underdevelopment of the regime. Why? Nations have insisted on sovereignty and national control of materials.
  • However, Fukushima highlighted the inadequacy of the nuclear security regime in dealing with radioactive dangers. National control is a fine thing, but what happens when radiation crosses borders?
  • We have to hope for an initiative to innovate nuclear security governance and bolster the regime. The current regime is inadequate, even if universal adherence is achieved.
  • There should be a two track effort out of Seoul between 2012 and 2016 – both governmental and through the expert community. The expert community can develop recommendations for a framework convention articulating comprehensive standards of performance and responsibility on nuclear security. The Vienna Convention for fluorocarbons was developed through a similar nongovernmental process.
  • Such an effort would get the ball rolling, starting with a core of dedicated countries and working toward universalization.
  • From 2017 – 2020, nations would work to develop a standardized approach to nuclear security, driving toward a unifying framework agreement. The current patchwork is too disaggregated. It is a very tall order, but if we come out of Seoul with what we came out of DC, then this process may not have the juice to keep it going.
  • The 2014 Summit that is expected to take place in the Netherlands may be the last one. Summits are a lot of work. Government-level folks don’t appreciate how difficult a Summit process is. Further, once it’s gone, they don’t realize how impossible it is to revive such a high-level process. Thus, leaders need to capitalize on the attention being generated.
  • We need a more forward-thinking process on how to innovate nuclear security. The consequences of nuclear terrorism demand stronger action.

Questions –

How many nations will participate in Seoul?

We won’t know how many heads of state will be in Seoul until very close to the Summit. 53 nations will be in attendance – the 47 participants in the 2010 NSS plus six that have been invited.

The 2012 Summit will be dealing with an expanded list of issues. There have also been presidential elections and ongoing news from North Korea and Iran, which have sucked up a lot of nuclear attention.

How is global momentum on enhancing nuclear security,heading into the Summit?

  • There are still frequent incidents where nuclear material smugglers are intercepted with fissile or radiological materials.
  • Securing all nuclear materials will not be complete within a four year window. Enhancing global nuclear security is a long-term process.
  • The Washington Summit relied upon and depleted potential projects that were in the pipeline, so making progress at Seoul is going to be difficult.
  • Nuclear security really is a critical issue, but without fuel this engine (the Nuclear Security Summit process) is going to sputter. One way to add fuel is to expand the scope – which is what is occurring in Seoul.

Following Fukushima, and the huge ramifications of nuclear disaster in Japan, will the Summit address the interface between nuclear safety and security?

  • Not a lot, though there should be more concentration on the safety-security interface than there is. Why not? Many nations have indicated that the Summit process should be solely about nuclear terrorism and other forums exist for nuclear safety. However, thinking within boxes can limit our ability to address a complex problem. Fukushima blurs the line between nuclear safety and security.
  • We are confronting a broad swath of nuclear issues, which are outpacing the nuclear regime. This is particularly true for nuclear security, which relies on voluntary decisions without binding guidelines. However, this is inadequate for globalized terrorist groups, which exploit security gaps.
  • Nuclear safety v. nuclear security: nuclear safety focuses on the safe operation of nuclear reactors. Security focuses on denying terrorist groups access to nuclear or radiological materials that could be used to fashion a crude nuclear device or dirty bomb. An attack with either device would cause an incredible amount of devastation – there is no containment surrounding either weapon as there is in nuclear reactors, which would worsen the spread of radiation.

Iran and North Korea not represented – will their nuclear programs overshadow the Summit? Who is the bigger threat and why? Is the Summit at all focused on Iran and North Korea?

  • There are parallel processes in engaging North Korea and Iran – there is not a direct connection between the two. Prior to 2010, the Summit organizers had to choose whether this Summit was going to be strictly devoted to preventing nuclear terrorism or whether it was going to address broader issues such as proliferation. They decided that nuclear security is so important that the discussion should not be diluted by other issues. That decision was credible decision – the need to enhance global nuclear security is an overriding problem.
  • Iran and North Korea are both serious and demand attention. Which one is more serious? Each have their own characteristics – North Korea is weak and surrounded by strong countries with nuclear weapons or a nuclear umbrella. North Korea has demonstrated its willingness to sell nuclear technology outside its borders. And, it has tested nuclear weapons.
  • Iran is almost the opposite – a strong country surrounded by weak in critical area for international security. However, it does not possess nuclear weapons.
  • We are facing a continuum of nuclear threats. The nuclear security regime is the least developed of the nuclear regimes, and the least transparent.
  • If anyone gives their nuclear material to terrorists it will be a very big problem – if you have nuclear materials you have to lock it up or get rid of it. High intensity radiological materials are less destructive, but a dirty bomb attack is more likely.
  • Further, these states would be a distraction from the problem at hand. This was proven when North Korea described the NSS as “an unsavory burlesque,” an “intolerable grave provocation” and a “childish farce.”

How does the FY13 budget request for nonproliferation relate to the effort to enhance nuclear security?

  • Cuts to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Nuclear Material Protection and Cooperation program (INMPC) will slow progress on securing nuclear material. Surely, those who run the programs will prioritize their work to focus on top priorities, but lower priorities will be shoved further down the list and will take longer to complete.
  • All of the budgets for these programs have been inadequate. The 2010 request was lower than that of the Bush administration. 2011 was better but then it was cut by Congress. It’s incomprehensible that there are 6000 radiation detection monitors around New York City and only 4-5 thousand around the rest of the world – and the administration thinks this is sufficient.

North Korea is not on the official agenda, but will it be considered on the sidelines of the event?

  • I imagine that President Lee Myung-bak will seek a strong expression of support from leaders of the world involved in nuclear issues and encourage a return to talks with the goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
  • The Obama administration is taking a cautious approach on implementation of the most recent nuclear agreement. The most important thing to do is to stop production of fissile material. The latest agreement is a positive step in that direction, but it doesn’t do anything about enrichment outside of Yongbyon.
  • The challenge in both Iran and North Korea is protecting material so that it can’t be used by terrorists.

How do we move forward with securing all vulnerable nuclear materials when the four year goal was never clearly defined?

  • Everyone gave the Obama administration a free ride in not defining the 4 year goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials. This plays to the administration’s advantage – so long as they indicate that they are on target to reach the four year goal, they can use it as a justification to cut the nuclear security budget.
  • We need a standard set of guidelines, fewer weak links in the system, and a culture focused on the safety and security of nuclear materials.
  • An agreement on nuclear security needs rigor, legal force and universality. Unfortunately, an agreement that’s rigorous with legal force is unlikely to be universal. Likewise, an agreement that is universal is likely to lack rigor or legal force.
  • How do we find our way out of this mix? We should pursue binding agreements on nuclear security for those involved in nuclear commerce. The United States has frequently implemented these arrangements through 123 agreements. We need to convince other nuclear exporters to adopt these guidelines.

Elaborate on next steps for governance – should the IAEA have an expanded role to look over people’s reports and verify them? Transparency seems like an easier step, but what should states disclose about security measures and what they have?

  • What we have now is a lowest common denominator approach. Far-reaching objectives are difficult for a large group of countries to agree to. Thus, a coalition of the willing could be formed to innovate the nuclear security regime. If we try for universality at the beginning of any process, we will end up with a project that is inadequate.
  • Potential leaders on nuclear security governance could include: South Korea, Japan and the United States (if the U.S. is willing – it’s not clear that they are); South Korea has frequently cited nuclear security governance as a topic. Fukushima made the Japanese understand that we have a problem in the safety-security interface. The United States also started this process.
  • It is relatively easy to develop a check list. Do you have Design Basis Threat? Do your regulators talk to one another? Do operators at nuclear facilities talk to one another? We spent the last 15 years at the most sensitive facilities in Russia. It is possible to protect information to ensure that it doesn’t spread to the wrong audiences.

Why is this issue so important? How do we keep momentum going?

  • It’s our job to demonstrate the importance of this issue, but also your job to help translate the importance of the issue to the public. Nuclear terrorism is one of the top global threats, and it is an issue that impacts everyone.
  • There will be a 2014 Summit in the Netherlands – confirmation of this is expected at Seoul. However, world leaders need to work to develop a baseline standard of protection.
  • Why is this important? Over twenty years, there have been twenty cases of fissile material seized outside the control of states – this material could be used in a nuclear weapon.
  • We need to learn from our mistakes – in all 19 out of 20 of these cases, we still don’t know where the material came from, how it got out of the facility, or where it was headed. Often, the smugglers included an advertisement that it would be a sample of a larger amount of material. Until leaders can answer these questions, they can’t be confident of their nuclear security. Until we remove this vulnerability we have a big problem.
  • The 2010 Summit introduced nuclear security to a lot of people around the globe. We need to emphasize how much still needs to be done -- we’ve done a lot of good things, but many assume that leaders are taking care of this.

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