Summit to guard against terrorists getting nukes

SEOUL, South Korea — Material that can be used to make nuclear bombs is stored in scores of buildings spread across dozens of countries.

SEOUL, South Korea — Material that can be used to make nuclear bombs is stored in scores of buildings spread across dozens of countries. If even a fraction of it fell into the hands of terrorists, it could be disastrous.

Nearly 60 world leaders who gathered Tuesday in Seoul for a nuclear security summit agreed to work on securing and accounting for all nuclear material by 2014. But widespread fear lingers about the safety of nuclear material in countries including former Soviet states, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and India.

While the threat of nuclear terrorism is considered lower now than a decade ago, especially after the death of Osama bin Laden, the nightmare scenario of a terrorist exploding a nuclear bomb in a major city isn’t necessarily the far-fetched stuff of movies.

“It would not take much, just a handful or so of these materials, to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people and that’s not an exaggeration, that’s the reality that we face,” President Barack Obama told world leaders at the meeting, a follow-up to a summit he hosted in Washington in 2010.

Building a nuclear weapon isn’t easy, but a bomb similar to the one that obliterated Hiroshima is “very plausibly within the capabilities of a sophisticated terrorist group,” according to Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

There’s an “immense difference between the difficulty of making safe, reliable weapons for use in a missile or combat aircraft and making crude, unsafe, unreliable weapons for delivery by truck,” Bunn said.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based nonproliferation group that tracks the security of world nuclear stockpiles, said in a January report that 32 countries have weapons-usable nuclear materials. Some countries, such as the United States, maintain strict controls already. However others, including Russia and other former Soviet republics, have struggled to secure their stocks, raising fears of “loose nukes” falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

It’s unclear how nations will enforce the summit’s goal of securing nuclear material by 2014. The International Atomic Energy Agency shares best practices for securing nuclear material, but the U.N. body has no power to enforce its recommendations.

Some countries on the NTI list are a concern because of their government’s ties with militant groups or because of corruption among their officials. Others simply don’t yet have good safety practices.

Although Pakistan’s small stockpiles of nuclear material are heavily guarded, it is believed to be prone to corruption by officials who may have sympathies to hard-line Islamic militants, Bunn said.

Despite New Delhi’s insistence that its nuclear materials are secure, the NTI ranked India among the top five nuclear security risks, saying the government needs more transparency, more independence for its nuclear regulator and tighter measures to protect nuclear material in transit.

India’s lax security was displayed in at least two incidents in recent years in which radioactive materials — from a hospital and a university laboratory — were discarded and later ended up in a scrap dealer’s shop.

Other recent nuclear scares include a suspected attempt by a crime syndicate in the eastern European country of Moldova to sell weapons-grade uranium to buyers in North Africa. Officials in the country told The Associated Press that 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of highly enriched uranium remains in criminal hands and is probably in another country.

The investigation provided fresh evidence of a black market in nuclear material probably taken from poorly secured Soviet stockpiles.

Russia has dramatically improved its nuclear security over the last 15 years, Bunn said, but it has the “world’s largest stockpiles in the world’s largest number of buildings and bunkers” as well as corruption and a weak security culture and regulations.

North Korea and Iran are viewed with worry because of fears of nuclear proliferation.

But Bunn said both are “likely small parts of the nuclear terrorism problem.”

“North Korea has only a few bombs’ worth of plutonium in a tightly controlled garrison state,” he said. “Iran has not begun to produce weapons-usable material.”

At least four terror groups, including al-Qaida and Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, have expressed a determination to obtain a nuclear weapon, said Kenneth Luongo, co-chair of the Fissile Materials Working Group, a Washington-based coalition of nuclear security experts.

Nuclear materials stored at research facilities are generally considered less secure than weapons at military installations, Luongo said. Last year’s meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant also shows how terrorists could launch a radiation hazard simply by sabotaging a facility’s functions.

While some groups could develop crude missiles or other delivery systems, unconventional weapons such as a single briefcase containing plutonium and a detonator may be an even bigger threat, said Chang Soon-heung, a nuclear expert at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and technology.

Nuclear security experts say greater political commitment is needed to drive efforts to secure radioactive materials and overcome barriers to international co-operation.

While experts praised this week’s nuclear summit as a sign of progress, some doubted whether countries would meet the 2014 deadline for securing the world’s loose nuclear material, defined generally as completed weapons, bomb material, or the skills to build them.

“There needs to be more political leadership from the top, and countries need to stop talking about what they’re doing individually and acknowledge that this is a cross-border international issue,” Luongo said.

———

AP writers Sam Kim in Seoul and Nirmala George in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Just Posted

Bowden baby in need of surgery

“Help for Alexis” Go Fund Me account

PHOTO: First Rider bus safety in Red Deer

Central Alberta students learned bus safety in the Notre Dame High School… Continue reading

Red Deer dancer attends national summer school

Dancers with others from across Canada and beyond

Innisfail Airport to host convention

2019 Canadian Owners and Pilots Association’s event

WATCH: Annual Family Picnic at Central Spray and Play

Blue Grass Sod Farms Ltd. held the Annual Family Picnic at the… Continue reading

Ontario govt caps off summer session by passing bill to cut Toronto council size

TORONTO — The Ontario government passed a controversial bill to slash the… Continue reading

Updated:Italian bridge collapse sends cars plunging, killing 26

MILAN — A 51-year-old highway bridge in the Italian port city of… Continue reading

Saudi Arabia spat affecting Canadians embarking on hajj, community members say

TORONTO — Members of Canada’s Muslim community say recent tensions between Ottawa… Continue reading

Tug carrying up to 22,000 litres of fuel capsizes in Fraser River off Vancouver

VANCOUVER — The smell of diesel filled the air as crews worked… Continue reading

Woman has finger ripped off at West Edmonton Mall waterslide

SASKATOON — A Saskatchewan woman says she lost a finger after her… Continue reading

Nebraska executes first inmate using fentanyl

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska carried out its first execution in more than… Continue reading

Canadian train travellers narrowly avoid deadly Italian bridge collapse

TORONTO — A pair of Canadian student travellers bemoaning what appeared to… Continue reading

Keep bribes quiet for 10 years, FIFA won’t punish you

LONDON — FIFA has officially eradicated corruption. All it took was pressing… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month