Summit fatigue

Print edition : May 04, 2012

Fifty-three heads of state and leaders of four international organisations at the Seoul summit on March 27.-JEWEL SAMAD /AFP

The Nuclear Security Summit is losing its momentum if the second one at Seoul was any indication.

THE second global Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) held in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea, during March 26-27 did not result in any dramatic declaration or ambitious national commitments by the participating countries. Besides reiterating the issues that were brought into focus at the first summit in Washington in April 2010, and the work plan outlined then, NSS-2012 did not make a significant movement forward. In fact, the Seoul Communique, released at the end of the summit, said: We will continue to use the Washington Communique and work plan as a basis for our future work in advancing our nuclear security objectives.

Some observers feel that the summit is already losing its momentum. There apparently was a palpable sense of summit fatigue in Seoul. And, many states are not keen on having the summit on a regular biennial basis beyond 2014, when the next summit is scheduled. To be chaired by the Netherlands, the next summit coming a year after the deadline set by United States President Barack Obama in his Prague speech of April 2009 to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years may even be the last.

NSS-2010 was an initiative arising from Obama's Prague call to ensure nuclear security and thus prevent nuclear terrorism, a threat that had begun to be perceived as real after the fall of the Soviet Union. This perception assumed serious proportions following 9/11. The goal of this initiative, according the U.S. Department of State, is to prevent the illegal possession, use or transfer of nuclear material, technology and expertise or other radioactive material. The Seoul summit was attended by 53 heads of states and also representatives of the United Nations (U.N.), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the European Union (E.U.) and INTERPOL, the international police organisation. There were seven new participants: Azerbaijan, Denmark, Gabon, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania and INTERPOL. Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea did not participate in the summit.

North Korea declined an invitation apparently because it came with the condition of denuclearisation. North Korea's more recent announcement that it will launch a satellite in mid-April has been widely perceived as an aggressive posture to demonstrate its missile capabilities, notwithstanding its offer to stop nuclear and missile tests following the agreement with the U.S. in February and its recent invitation to IAEA inspectors to return to Pyongyang. In fact, the perceived direct threat to South Korea from its neighbour's nuclear plans was most certainly a prime consideration in Obama's decision to hand over the NSS-2012 Chair to South Korea. Likewise, the idea to invite Belarus was dropped after that country, following renewed sanctions by the U.S., went back in August 2011 on its December 2010 commitment to eliminate all of its highly enriched uranium (HEU) holdings by 2012.

While participating leaders discussed the nuclear programmes of these two countries on the sidelines of the summit, the issue did not form part of the main agenda, and rightly so because of its geopolitical underpinnings and the consequent polarisation of perspectives, especially in the case of Iran. If the agenda or the communique were to say something about their nuclear programmes, it would not have been politically acceptable. Israel's nuclear programme would have invariably come up and, unlike Iran and North Korea, Israel was present in the summit.

Similarly, the ranking of countries on a nuclear security index scale by the U.S.-based non-governmental organisation Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in early January, evolved on an obviously faulty basis with flawed methodology, did not receive any serious attention at the summit. In fact, the issue was virtually ignored at the third meeting of the Sherpas (chief negotiators) on January 16-17 in New Delhi to give shape to the Seoul communique, though it was held soon after the NTI report came out. Countries such as India, which were placed quite low in the ranking, would have had justifiable reasons to object to it if it were to find a reference anywhere.

As Michael Levi, Director of the U.S. Programme on Energy Security and Climate Change, said in a summit preview interview to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), [W]e can get too infatuated with the nuclear challenges of the day and forget that there are other ones around. Nuclear materials that could be used in terrorist weapons remain in dozens of countries around the world, and it's important for us to continue to improve security and lower the odds of a nuclear terrorist attack. One of the values of a series of summits like this is that it stops us from forgetting about this issue just because we happen to be more focussed on the Iranian programme or North Korean programme right now. Of course, it is another matter that Seoul failed to live up to expectations.

A recent report of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association (ACA), released a week before NSS-2012, highlighted the advances made in global nuclear material security since NSS-2010, in particular with regard to the 60 national commitments made by 30 of the 47 participating countries and the IAEA. According to it, as of February 2012, approximately 80 per cent of the national commitments made in Washington have been fulfilled. It noted that important progress had been made in ratifying international conventions, securing and removing HEU and plutonium (Pu) stocks, and establishing new training and collaboration centres and opportunities. Of course, the report acknowledged the fact that owing to the sensitive nature of fissile material security, not all actions taken by countries would be made public.

Waiting for ratification

The 2010 communique and the work plan had recognised the importance of the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), and its 2005 amendment, and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT) as legally binding multilateral mechanisms for global nuclear security and had called for their universalisation. Of the state participants of the NSS, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are yet to ratify the CPPNM.

In its applicability, the main treaty includes only international transport. The 2005 amendment extends the protection requirements to domestic use, storage and transport of nuclear materials and includes new legal consequences for misuse and sabotage. But the amendment is not yet in force; only 55 of the 145 Parties to the Convention have ratified it so far as against the required two-thirds majority. The last to ratify it was Sweden just three days before NSS-2012 taking the number of NSS countries that had ratified it since NSS-2010 to 21. But, significantly, key nuclear-capable states such as the U.S., France, Japan and Pakistan are yet to ratify it.

The ICSANT (2005) is a U.N. treaty against terrorism that provides a definition of nuclear terrorism and spells out how illicit materials and offenders should be dealt with. While seven NSS participants have ratified the treaty since NSS-2010, significantly, Argentina, France and the U.S. are among the states who have not ratified it. Australia ratified it shortly before NSS-2012. In its national statement at the 2010 summit, the U.S. said that it was continuing its efforts to ratify both the treaties. In April 2011, the U.S. administration submitted a Bill to Congress for ratification. Congress is yet to pass it.

Many countries had, in their commitments, pledged to consolidate, secure or remove HEU and Pu from their territories. Chile, Mexico and Ukraine had committed themselves to complete removal of HEU stocks. Kazakhstan had committed itself to working cooperatively to shut down its BN-250 Pu-production reactor and its fuel security and to eliminate HEU from a reactor that was slated to be converted to a low-enriched uranium (LEU) reactor. Canada had committed itself to funding HEU removal activities in Mexico and Vietnam and returning HEU spent fuel to the U.S. Also, Russia and the U.S. had committed themselves to Pu-disposition protocol, and the U.S. had said that it was in the process of obtaining legal and regulatory approval to ship back Pu into the U.S. from sites of concern.

On commitments, the most significant record is that of Chile, which fulfilled its pledge to eliminate all 18 kg of HEU from its territory ahead of NSS-2012. Chile's was the first HEU transfer to the U.S. since the January 2009 authorisation by the U.S. government to accept limited amounts of HEU spent fuel of non-U.S. origin. In November 2010, the U.S.-Kazakhstan Energy Partnership programme completed the BN-350 reactor shutdown and secured over three tonnes of weapons-grade Pu and over 10 tonnes of HEU. Over a year, spent fuel was transported to a new long-term, IAEA-safeguarded storage facility at Aktau in eastern Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan also down-blended 33 kg of HEU last year.

Removal of HEU

At NSS-2010, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov fulfilled their national commitments to sign the Plutonium Disposition Protocol to the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement of 2000. Under this, both countries have committed themselves to eliminating 34 tonnes each of excess weapons-grade Pu (equivalent to about 10,000 weapons). They have now agreed on the verification procedures under the protocol after negotiations. The U.S. national statement had also indicated that it was in the final stages of getting authorisation to ship back 100 kg Pu into the country from sites of concern for disposition. This has now been completed.

There are other cases of significant HEU/Pu removal around the world. Poland completed the removal of more than 450 kg of HEU spent fuel of Russian origin in October 2010 in collaboration with the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Overall, according to the ACA report, since Obama set a four-year deadline in 2009, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), launched by the U.S. in May 2004, has eliminated all HEU from six countries: Chile, Libya, Romania, Serbia, Taiwan and Turkey. Since NSS-2010, the U.S. has removed over 400 kg of HEU and Pu and down-blended 700 kg of HEU from civil nuclear programmes around the world.

India's record

In the context of minimisation of civilian use of HEU, it must be mentioned that India placed the fuel used in the APSARA reactor in a safeguarded facility in December 2010 and the reactor will now use non-HEU-based indigenous fuel instead. This was highlighted in India's national progress report presented at the summit. However, the report emphasised India's three-stage nuclear programme based on a closed nuclear cycle, with the underlying principle of reprocess to use', in which separated Pu will be used in the second stage involving fast neutron breeder reactors. The report also highlighted India's indigenous development of the Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) based on LEU and thorium with new safety and proliferation-resistant features.

Among the significant actions since NSS-2010, according to the ACA report, is that six countries have joined the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), a multilateral forum created by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in July 2006. GICNT now has 82 members, including India, and four observer organisations which are committed on a voluntary basis to implementing a set of objectives in the GICNT Statement of Principles. Eighteen countries and the E.U. have contributed to the IAEA's Nuclear Security Fund (NSF), while 12 new national, regional or international centres of excellence for nuclear security and related activities have been created.

India has pledged a contribution of $1 million to the NSF for the first time. The amount incidentally is much larger than the voluntary contribution that India regularly makes to the IAEA's Technical Cooperation Fund (TCF). The only commitment it had made at NSS-2010 was the creation of a nuclear energy centre with a nuclear security component. India has since established the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP), the physical infrastructure for which is coming up near Bahadurgarh in Haryana. Among the various centres of excellence set up, the Indian GCNEP is perhaps the biggest and the most broad-based. This found specific mention in the Indian Prime Minister's speech at Seoul.

India has already begun to conduct off-campus courses under its aegis. In November 2011, a regional training course on nuclear security, Physical Protection of Nuclear Facilities against Sabotage, was held along with the launch of the GCNEP, which was attended by 25 delegates including 17 foreign nationals. Agreements for participation in the GCNEP have already been signed with the U.S., Russia, France and the IAEA. Discussions with the U.K. for its membership are at an advanced stage.

Given these positive nuclear security-related developments around the world, in the run up to NSS-2012 the expectations from the summit were, in fact, quite high. Looking forward to the Seoul NSS in 2012, we expect to see even more accomplishments of the commitments made in Washington, and new pledges of action that make real progress towards securing nuclear materials, preventing nuclear terrorism and illicit trafficking, and making the world a safer place, said Laura Holgate, Senior Director for WMD Terrorism and Threat Reduction, U.S. National Security Council, in October 2011. However, the summit's achievements fell well short of it.

In general, NSS-2012 sought to reaffirm the Washington commitments, and one of its chief objectives was to assess the progress made on them since NSS-2010. Significantly, the scope of the summit agenda was expanded to include discussions on security of radiological sources and nuclear-sensitive information and, most significantly, the interface between nuclear security and nuclear safety. The nuclear security-safety nexus was clearly the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011. The summit also sought to outline future goals in respect of international treaties and agreements on nuclear security, radiological sources security and nuclear safety.

NSS-2012 combined the two Washington documents into one communique, which was finalised on March 23 at the last Sherpa meeting in Seoul and issued at the end of the summit. Urging universal adherence to the CPPNM and the ICSANT, the Seoul Communique called for bringing the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM into force by 2014. But it is quite clear that, with just 55 parties ratifying the amendment at present, this is extremely unlikely to happen. It also set 2013 as the target year for states to announce voluntary actions on minimising HEU use.

The communique also emphasised that the IAEA document on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and Nuclear Facilities (INFCIRC/225/revision 5) and related documents of the IAEA, including Nuclear Security Series, the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and its supplementary document on the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources, be implemented at the level of individual nations and urged the states to maintain national registers of highly radioactive sources where required. The document has set out other specific measures to prevent radiological terrorism, an issue that was only briefly touched upon at NSS-2010.

Safety & security

Perhaps the most significant new element in the Seoul Communique was the nuclear security-safety interface. The U.S. State Department's fact sheet on nuclear security actually makes a distinction between the two: Nuclear security pertains to the prevention of nuclear material theft, nuclear smuggling and terrorism, while nuclear safety deals with the practices and safeguards to keep nuclear facilities and workers safe. NSS-2012 has sought to bring the two aspects closer than before by acknowledging that there are commonalities in nuclear safety and security measures in that both have the aim of protecting human life and health and the environment. The states affirmed in the document that the interface should be considered at all stages, from design to emergency response, and that the measures should be implemented and managed in a coherent and synergistic manner. In this regard, the communique sought the assistance of the IAEA in strengthening the interface so that the measures are sustained beyond 2014 irrespective of whether the summit process survives or not.

Reiterating what had been stated in the Washington Communique, the Seoul Communique reaffirmed the essential responsibility and the central role of the IAEA in strengthening the international nuclear security framework, and recognised the value of the IAEA Nuclear Security Plan 2010-13. The communique, in fact, merely repeated the Washington phrases (see Box). It, however, added the following significant sentence: To this end, we encourage states in a position to do so and the nuclear industry to increase voluntary contributions into the IAEA's Nuclear Security Fund (NSF), as well as in-kind contributions.

Much before Obama's call for nuclear security and the idea of a nuclear summit, the IAEA has been engaged in implementing and strengthening nuclear security measures in member countries. In 2002, the IAEA's Board of Governors had given approval to the agency to get engaged in activities relating to nuclear security. An Advisory Group on Nuclear Security (AdSec) was also constituted for the purpose. For these activities, the board approved the setting up of the NSF through voluntary contributions of the member states because of its near zero-growth annual budget. The IAEA's budget, chiefly meant for its usual nuclear-power and nuclear safety-related activities, has two components: (a) each member's assessed contribution; and (b) members' voluntary contributions to the TCF.

Since 2002, the IAEA has been drawing up nuclear security plans for successive three-year periods, with inputs from AdSec, the third of which is for the period 2010-13. The implementation of these three-year Plans is almost wholly dependent on the donation of extra-budgetary funds and other in-kind contributions (like cost-free experts, offer of services, equipment and use of facilities) by member states and others to the NSF.

Thus, unfortunately, the extent to which the IAEA can execute its Plans is limited. A majority of voluntary contributions to the NSF come with conditions for use. In 2010, the agency's auditor observed that only about 5 per cent of the NSF came without any restrictions and that it was limiting flexibility in the use of the funds. As a result, one can imagine situations where the IAEA cannot extend the assistance that a given state seeks for implementing certain nuclear security measures.

Already squeezed for funds by the burden of implementing nuclear-enhanced safeguards (Additional Protocol, etc.), the agency has had to execute certain kinds of safeguard inspections that are tied to donors' funds. Rather than being a promoter of civilian nuclear power and nuclear applications as its charter mandated, the IAEA was getting reduced to being a nuclear watchdog. Now, with the additional responsibility of promoting nuclear security measures and assisting in their implementation, the summit communiques' assurance notwithstanding, its promotional role could get eroded further. The NSS Parties would do well to ensure against that.

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