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Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012
Nuclear Security Summit

2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit supporters meet.

Scheduled to take place in Seoul from March 26 to 27, 2012, the “2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit” will discuss issues such as cooperative measures to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism; protection of nuclear materials and related facilities; and prevention of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials. Around 50 heads of state from countries such as the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, Australia, India, Brazil, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, the European Union, and more, as well as officials from the UN and IAEA, are expected to participate in the discussions.

The Seoul Summit’s main objective is to deter terrorists from acquiring and using nuclear materials. The falling of nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists is a persistent risk, and countries all across the world fear for the safety of their own nuclear materials and facilities. The September 9 2011 terrorist attack on America underscored that the threat of nuclear terrorism is very much real and that the most powerful country’s nuclear facilities may also not be 100 percent secure despite all its nuclear policies and security measures.

The 9/11 attack was also a wake-up call for the countries possessing nuclear materials as they realized the need to strengthen their nuclear security and re-define their nuclear policies to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of the terrorist or nuclear facilities coming under terrorist attack.

Additionally, last year’s nuclear accident at Fukushima, following the major 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the 15 meter tsunami, raised concerns around the world about nuclear safety. The accident at the nuclear plant was due primarily to nature’s fury but many countries fear similar kind of accidents at their nuclear reactors due to sabotage by terrorists.

Hahn Choong-hee, sous-sherpa and spokesman of the preparatory secretariat for the Seoul summit, told the press that the “Fukushima accident highlighted the potential threat of a terrorist attack aimed at sabotaging a nuclear plant’s essential systems, such as its power supplies, pumps and cooling processes.”

According to an AFP report, he said that the Fukushima accident would loom large over the March 26-27 Seoul Summit, which will seek to restore confidence in the nuclear industry after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Hahn said that threats to the security of nuclear material posed by instability in the Middle East would also be on the summit’s agenda, and also ongoing efforts to stop terrorists building a “dirty bomb” with radioactive material.

Today, the threat of terrorism is no longer confined to a particular geographical region and no country can deal with the threat of nuclear terrorism in isolation. The organizers of the summit believe that there is a need to recognize the importance of nuclear security at the summit level and seek cooperation.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative’s (NTI) Nuclear Material Security Index notes that there is no global consensus about what steps matter most in achieving nuclear security. Rodrigo V. Alvarez, an international partner of the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG), said in a report that the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March will be a critical opportunity for states to improve global cooperation on nuclear terrorism prevention.

“Given that international terrorist networks move, communicate, and operate across international borders, all nations need to join together to ensure that there are no gaps in global nuclear security,” Alvarez said.

The security of nuclear materials and facilities is seen as a national reasonability. And, most countries believe that it’s the duty of each country to adopt a secure policy that strengthens security of nuclear materials and the facilities. There is, however, considerable scope for international cooperation to strengthen nuclear security objectives and standards, according to summit’s organizers. At their website, the summit’s organizers said that the main objective of the Nuclear Summit process has been to “focus high-level global attention on the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and the measures required to address the global challenge of preventing terrorists and other non-state actors from gaining access to sensitive nuclear materials, technology and information.”

The nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the so called rogue nations, are also a major concern for a majority of countries participating in the summit. Recently, Iran loaded domestically produced fuel into a research reactor in Tehran, which has triggered an alarm bell across the world. Also, President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad enumerated advances in his country’s nuclear program and according to reports, ordered Iran to “go build” four more nuclear research reactors in addition to the one currently operating in Tehran.

Hahn told reporters that at the Seoul Summit, they do not plan to officially discuss Iranian and North Korean issues. But the recent pronouncements coming out of Iran may put the country’s ambitious nuclear program on the discussion agenda.

Hahn said that the summit may send an implicit message to nuclear-ambitious North Korea -- although the country’s nuclear issue is not on the summit agenda. The first Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington in 2010 and President Barack Obama inaugurated it. The participating leaders discussed issues pertaining to dangers of nuclear terrorism and the increase of awareness of these dangers. They discussed plans to strengthen nuclear security by preventing the misuse of nuclear materials by non-state actors.

Stanley Foundation’s “Planning for Success at the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit” report noted that the first summit succeeded in establishing a consensus that nuclear terrorism is a serious threat to all nations, and to secure all vulnerable material within four years. The Washington summit saw participating nations committing to strengthening nuclear security and reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism. The Seoul Summit is expected to consolidate the first summit’s commitment and discuss international cooperation to effectively deal with nuclear terrorism.

At the Washington summit, President Obama indicated probable agenda priorities for the Seoul Summit. These included: deepening of cooperation and strengthening the institutions and partnerships which may help prevent nuclear materials from ever falling into the hands of terrorists; strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the resources and authorities it needs to meet its responsibilities; and taking specific and concrete actions to secure the nuclear materials and to prevent illicit trafficking and smuggling. As a host of the second nuclear security summit, South Korea plans to play a leading role in “coordinating participating countries’ views on key nuclear security issues and lead discussions on the drafting of the ‘Seoul Communiqué’, which will be the final document of the Seoul Summit.” Earlier this year in January, a meeting of the Sherpas for the 2nd Nuclear Security Summit was held in New Delhi, India. Attended by 49 participating countries and four international organizations, this meeting’s main agenda was “consideration of the draft communiqué that would be adopted by the Summit in Seoul.”

Additionally, negotiators from around 49 participating nations also have reached an agreement “in principle” to minimize the civilian use of highly-enrichment uranium (HEU).

The Seoul Summit is not without its share of opposing voices. The parties and organizations opposing the event say that the summit does not discuss nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and only concentrates on nuclear security. South Korea’s main opposition party, the Democratic United Party, said that it has decided to join a coalition of more than 40 political parties and organizations that oppose the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit.

“We are for non-proliferation of nuclear and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Jong-seok, secretary general of the DUP, told the press. “We also believe in reduction of nuclear energy and development of alternative energies, and that is why we decided to join this initiative.”

Hans-Ulrich Seidt, Germany’s ambassador to South Korea, told The Korea Times that, “We hope a very positive message will be sent in this summit that proliferation and nuclear weapons programs run outside the prohibitions of the NPT, and that is something the world community should not accept in the 21st century.”

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