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Nuclear Security Summit 2014
Mar 26, 2014

On 25 March, in The Hauge, The Netherlands World leaders called on countries to cut their use and their stocks of highly enriched nuclear fuel to the minimum to help prevent Al-Qaeda-style militants from obtaining material for atomic bombs.

Winding up a 3rd nuclear security summit since 2010, this one overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis, 53 countries (including the United States and Russia at a time of high tension between them) agreed much headway had been made in the past four years. But they also underlined that many challenges remained and stressed the need for increased international cooperation to make sure highly enriched uranium (HEU), plutonium and other radioactive substances do not fall into the wrong hands.

The United States and Russia set aside their differences over Crimea to endorse the meeting's final statement aimed at enhancing nuclear security around the world, together with other big powers including China, France, Germany and Britain.

But Russia, China and 16 other countries shunned a separate initiative of the United States, the Netherlands and South Korea at the summit to incorporate UN nuclear agency security guidelines into national rules.The absence of Russia, China, Pakistan, and India (all nuclear weapons states with large amounts of nuclear material) as well as others weakens the initiative's impact.

The Dutch hosts hailed the summit as a major step towards a safer world. By contrast, the the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG) said the summit had taken moderate steps toward stopping dangerous weapons-usable nuclear materials from going astray but that bolder, more concerted action was needed.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Ukraine's decision at the first nuclear security summit in Washington in 2010 to remove all of its HEU was a vivid reminder that the more of this material we can secure, the safer all of our countries will be. Had that not happened, those dangerous nuclear materials would still be there now. And the difficult situation we are dealing with in Ukraine today would involve yet another level of concern. We still have a lot more work to do to fulfill the ambitious goals we set four years ago to fully secure all nuclear and radiological material, civilian and military.

At this summit, Belgium and Italy announced that they had shipped out HEU and plutonium to the United States for down-blending into less proliferation-sensitive material or disposal. Japan said it would send hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of such material to the United States.

Like plutonium, uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants but also provides the fissile core of a bomb if refined to a high level. The summit encourage states to minimize their stocks of HEU and to keep their stockpile of separated plutonium to the minimum level.

According to FMWG, around 2,000 metric tonnes (2204 tons) of highly-radioactive materials are spread across hundreds of sites in 25 countries. Most of the material is under military control but a significant quantity is stored in less secured civilian locations.

Since 1991, the number of countries with nuclear weapons-usable material has roughly halved from some 50.However, more than 120 research and isotope production reactors around the world still use HEU for fuel or targets, many of them with very modest security measures.

Referring to a push to use low-enriched uranium (LEU) as fuel in research and other reactor types instead of HEU, the summit statement said: "We encourage states to continue to minimize the use of HEU through the conversion of reactor fuel from HEU to LEU, where technically and economically feasible. Similarly, we will continue to encourage and support efforts to use non-HEU technologies for the production of radio-isotopes, including financial incentives."


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