Nuclear security: reasons behind the summit

Updated: 2014-03-20 15:04


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THE HAGUE -- With the Nuclear Security Summit 2014 coming up in the Hague, one could wonder what is the importance of nuclear security.

Xinhua spoke to Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) chief negotiator Piet de Klerk about the necessity of the summit.


Although the chance of a nuclear terrorist attack by a non-state party seems small, the consequences could be catastrophic and therefore the NSS was established. U.S.. President Barack Obama put nuclear security on the political agenda in a speech he gave in Prague in 2009 on the dangers of nuclear terrorism.

He took the initiative to organize a NSS and as a result the U.S. hosted the first summit in Washington in 2010 followed by one in Seoul in 2012.

The third summit will be held in the Hague with leaders and delegates from all over the world. Three goals were identified to prevent nuclear terrorism: reducing the amount of dangerous nuclear material in the world, improving the security of existing material and stepping up international cooperation.


"The materials we are talking about are highly-enriched uranium and plutonium,"Dutch chief negotiator De Klerk explained. "They are dangerous because they can be used to make nuclear weapons. They are fissile and could split more atoms and trigger a chain reaction that we know as a nuclear explosion."

"Plutonium is also very dangerous if ingested," De Klerk added. "It is easy to protect against its radiation, but even a small amount of plutonium in your body, or polonium for that matter, can cause irreparable damage."

One example of the threat of polonium was the strange death of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The former officer of the Russian Federal Security Services, FSB and KGB, died after becoming the first confirmed victim of lethal polonium 210-induced acute radiation syndrome.

"The second goal is to increase the security of existing nuclear material, especially material that can be used to make nuclear weapons," De Klerk said. "I consider this goal together with the third goal of stepping up international cooperation. Every state is responsible for the nuclear material on its territory."


How likely is a nuclear attack by terrorists? Dick Schoof, chief of the Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), claims it is well-known that terrorists are interested in nuclear materials. He knows that through statements of terrorists and intercepted communications by secret intelligence services.

"However, to create a real nuclear bomb is very complicated," Schoof told Dutch broadcaster NOS. "But the concern lies with all kinds of other radioactive material. If you combine enough of this material with ordinary explosives you cannot make a nuclear bomb, but you can make a 'dirty' bomb and radioactively contaminate a large area. That is a huge threat at the moment."


In addition to dangerous nuclear material, the summit will also discuss radioactive material -- material which is not fissile like cobalt-60, strontium-90 and caesium-137.

A previous incident involving radioactive material happened in Mexico in December 2013. Authorities in Mexico detained six men suspected of stealing a truck carrying medical equipment including a radioactive element (Cobalt-60). Also in Genoa Italy on July 13, 2010, a cargo container arrived emitting torrents of radiation.

Over a hundred times a year, nuclear or radioactive material gets lost or stolen and appears somewhere else in the world, according to figures from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Between 1993 and 2012, there were 2,331 reports of such findings. The IAEA assumes that in reality, there are even more incidents because countries report on a voluntary basis.

Though these reports are not about material falling into the hands of terrorists, they show radioactive and nuclear materials are not as secure as they should be.