Nuclear Security Summit 2016 : First step towards the future

The 4th National Nuclear Summit 2016, which was organised by the Nuclear Energy Institute, concluded on April 1, 2016 in Washington DC, US. Leaders from 52 countries converged in the city to finalise measures to secure nuclear facilities and begin to reduce nuclear stocks.

History of NSS :

The Nuclear Security Summit was started in 2010 with the objective of preventing nuclear terrorism in the world. The first edition was held in Washington DC in 2010. It is conducted once every two years. In 2012, it was held in Seoul, South Korea and the third edition was conducted in 2014 in Hague, the Netherlands.

The provenance of establishment of this summit lies in US President Barack Obama’s speech in Prague in 2009 wherein he emphasised the importance of curbing nuclear terrorism and securing nuclear facilities across the globe.

After the first summit ended, countries started working towards ensuring nuclear security as per measures agreed in the Washington Work Plan. In the 2012 edition, a major highlight was the inclusion of the security of all radiological materials with fissile ones in deference to public fears of radioactivity after the Fukushima tragedy. While the Seoul summit focused on implementation of political agreements finalised in the first summit, a number of new action plans were also.

Significance of the NSS

  • NSS was launched to limit the dangers posed by highly fissile and radiological material. There is around 2000 tonnes of such nuclear material dispersed around the world, of which around 5-25 kgs is enough to make a nuclear weapon. The world is also facing the threat of production of dirty bombs or radiological dispersal devices (RDD) i.e. a speculative radiological weapon which combines radioactive material with conventional explosives. The purpose of the weapon is to contaminate the area with radioactive material against civilians. Unlike nuclear weapons, dirty bombs are relatively easy to produce as its raw materials are not protected with the stringency accorded to fissile materials used in nuclear weapons.

Key Highlights of NSS 2016

The key announcements made during the NSS 2016 are as follows:

a) Various countries, including Kazakhstan and Poland, undertook to reduce their highly-enriched uranium stockpiles.

b) Japan has agreed to ship additional plutonium to the US.

c) Canada has pledged $42 million in order to boost nuclear security.

d) Like Latin America and Caribbean, countries like Argentina, Switzerland and Uzbekistan are free from highly-enriched uranium.

e) Since the last summit in Hague in 2010, around 10 countries have removed or disposed around 450 kg of highly-enriched uranium.

f) As per US’s recent declaration, its inventory of highly-enriched uranium has seen a steep decrease from 741 metric tonnes in 1990 to 586 metric tonnes in 2013.

g) President Obama urged India and Pakistan to reduce their nuclear arsenal. He also reiterated that that the acquiring of nuclear weapon by the terror group Islamic State (ISIS) is currently the biggest threat to global security.

Driven to counter nuclear terrorism

Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the summit in the last leg of his three-nation visit to Saudi Arabia, Belgium and the United States. He elaborated on initiatives implemented by the Indian government to maintain nuclear security. His key announcements are as follows:

a) The implementation of India’s National Security is underway with strong institutional framework, independent agencies, trained and specialised manpower.

b) India will set up a facility for Medical grade ‘Molly-99’ using low-enriched uranium. An effective plan will be formulated to develop and deploy technology to counter physical as well as cyber barriers. Vitrified forms of vulnerable radioisotopes such as Ceasium-137 will be used.

c) A dedicated counter-nuclear smuggling team has been set up in India.

d) By contributing $1 million to the Nuclear Security Fund, India has extended its support towards the IAEA’s (International Atomic Energy Agency) central role in global Nuclear Security. A workshop with IAEA experts on International Physical Protection Assessment Service (IPPAS) will also be held in India.

e) India will join the trilateral initiative of NSS chairs circulated at IAEA. This will be done by subscribing states as the joint statement on strengthening nuclear security implementation.

f) India will also join three gift baskets for this summit in priority areas of countering nuclear smuggling, nuclear security contact group in Vienna, and sharing of best practices through Centres of Excellence such as India’s own.

g) India has also agreed to host a meeting of Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism in 2017 and plans to hold an international conference on countering nuclear smuggling with the Interpol.

h) India has harmonised its export control list and guidelines with those of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It is working towards bolstering its contribution to shared non-proliferation objectives through membership of export controls regimes.

Let’s us now analyse how NSS 2016 would be effective in strengthening nuclear security in the world.

Positive outcomes:

1. The most important outcome of NSS 2016 is the adoption of ‘Nuclear Security Summit 2016 Communique’. It urges those states are yet to ratify the International Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials & International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

2. The affirmation of shared goals of nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation & peaceful use of nuclear energy.

3. At NSS, countries committed to increase international cooperation, including sharing of information in accordance with their national laws and procedures.

4. NSS reaffirmed the essential responsibility and central role of the IAEA in formation of a global nuclear security system and in enabling the coordination of member countries as well as various international organisations.

5. NSS supports in convening of regular ministerial-level international conferences.

6. It also proposes to implement action plans formulated by international organisations to which we respectively belong (the UN, the IAEA, INTERPOL, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction).

How NSS has failed to be noteworthy?

  1. Though plans formulated during NSS 2016 are set in the right path of achieving global nuclear security, countries have been known to fall back when it comes to effective implementation of these plans.
  2. Absence of fundamental nuclear security architecture globally has fragmented efforts to be undertaken by countries that possess nuclear material. The efforts are not directed toward one major goal, but are country-specific and non-binding.
  3. As per the Global Fissile Material Report 2015, there is around 1,370 tonnes of HEU (highly-enriched uranium) in the world with about 99% of this material held by countries known for their nuclear arsenal. However, such countries (like Russia, North Korea, Iran & Belarus) did not participate in this summit, thereby making it unproductive.
  4. The political unwillingness of nuclear material possessing countries is the major failure of such global-level talks on nuclear security. No country has taken interest in discussing nuclear disarmament. The summit has narrowed its focus to civilian holdings in non-nuclear weapon states which is already being monitored by the IAEA. Such holdings are a mere fraction of the global stockpile. However, the NSS has not proposed plans or commitments to reduce nuclear weapons in countries like the US and Russia.
  5. The situation in South Asia is worsening with countries amassing nuclear weapons in the name of so-called ‘modernisation programmes’. There is no talk of scaling down of creation of these nuclear weapons. NSS 2016 failed to even broach this issue.

India’s POV:

For many years now, India has been at the receiving end of terror attacks orchestrated by terror outfits in Pakistan and is facing new threats like the ISIS. With the way such militant groups operate, getting access to radioactive material is not out of their scope. India would surely be one of the most vulnerable nations in the face of nuclear attacks.

India has taken many measures to ensure the nuclear security within the country, including the voluntary unilateral moratorium post the 1998 nuclear tests in Pokhran. It has also managed to keep its own nuclear material safe from wrong hands. However, the nation needs cooperation from the international community, especially strong players like the US and Russia to strengthen its nuclear security. It is of high significance, especially in the wake of terror attacks in Paris & Brussels. Sharing of advanced technology for cyber security will go a long way in keeping India’s nuclear material from falling into wrong hands.

Conclusion

Firstly, the member countries should commit to address issues related to reduction of military & civilian nuclear stocks and expansion of the endorsement of current gift baskets, especially the Trilateral Initiative.Countries should collectively devise an effective long-term plan to eliminate use of nuclear stocks for warfare.

A proper legal framework to create a nuclear security architecture with new standards, transparency & accountability is the need of the hour. All the member countries need to convene regular ministerial-level conferences to keep a track of progress. The gift basket policy is a good measure if implemented well. Focus should be more on such gift baskets so as to bring nations closer and facilitate cooperation.

Bolstering nuclear security should be the priority of the international community. Comprehensive and universal measures need to be taken to achieve the same.

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