Nuclear Security Summit: How to understand what it does

Nuclear Security Summit: How to understand what it does

The fourth Nuclear Security Summit being held in Washington DC from today will be attended by the leaders of more than 50 countries, including PM Modi.

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President Barack Obama (AP Photo)

In the wake of the Brussels terror attacks, Belgians were worried about the security of their country’s nuclear installations. It is the latest example of the challenges the world faces in ensuring security for civilian nuclear programmes.

The fourth Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) being held in Washington DC from Thursday will be attended by the leaders  of more than 50 countries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

What is a Nuclear Security Summit? When did it start?

In his 2009 Prague speech, US President Barack Obama stated that nuclear terrorism “is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” To mitigate this threat, Obama announced “a new international effort to secure
vulnerable nuclear material around the world” that would begin with “a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host.” The inaugural Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) was held in Washington DC in 2010, followed by the second one in Seoul in 2012, and at The Hague in 2014. This is the last in the series initiated by Obama.

What were the key goals of the NSS?


The goal of the NSS is to address concerns about fissile material falling into the wrong hands at a head-of-state level. It includes minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), bolstering security at nuclear facilities through enhanced national regulations and implementation of best practices, enhanced membership in international instruments and organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), instituting measures to detect and prevent illicit trafficking in nuclear and other radioactive materials, and Centers of Excellence, build capacity, develop technology and coordinate assistance on nuclear Security.

What are the achievements of the NSS?

Since April 2009 more than 3.2 metric tons of vulnerable HEU and plutonium have been removed or disposed of, which is enough material for 130 nuclear weapons. Thirteen countries and Taiwan have become HEU-free including
Austria, Chile, Czech Republic, Hungary, Libya, Serbia, Turkey and the Ukraine. Physical security upgrades have been completed at 32 buildings storing weapons-usable fissile materials. And radiation detection equipment has been installed at 328 international border crossings, airports, and seaports to combat illicit trafficking in nuclear materials.

There has been a verified shutdown or successful conversion to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel use of 24 HEU research reactors and isotope production facilities in 15 countries, including Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, the
Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

How many countries are participating in the fourth NSS?

This summit will be attended by 53 countries and five global institutions, which cover 98 per cent of the nuclear material on the planet. Iran and North Korea are not invited, and Russia’s President Putin who attended the first three summits, will stay away due to his differences with President Obama over Ukraine.

What are the goals of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit?

The twin goals for the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit are: advancing tangible improvements in nuclear security behaviour, and strengthening the global nuclear security architecture. Action Plans on nuclear security will be
endorsed for international organizations and institutions (International Atomic Energy Agency, United Nations, INTERPOL, Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction).

What are the advantages of the NSS process?

Actions at the NSS do not require consensus, as is the case at the IAEA or the UN. The NSS process employs the novel mechanisms of “house gifts”—through which countries can make unilateral commitments to nuclear security—and “gift baskets”—through which smaller groups of nations can make multilateral commitments. This flexibility has contributed a great deal to the success of the NSS.

What are the limitations of the NSS process?

As NSS covers nuclear material only for non-military purposes, 83 per cent of the nuclear material falls outside its ambit. Despite its intent, the NSS has also not been able to amend the IAEA’s convention on nuclear safety. The fact that there is no legally binding outcome at the end of six years of NSS process is its major drawback. The NSS process has instead focused on asking countries to tighten their national laws, rules and capabilities on nuclear security. This has meant that military facilities are treated as national responsibilities and dealt as per international obligations.

What has been India’s contribution to the NSS?

India has played an active role at the summits with the first two being attended by then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. As part of the house gift, India made a voluntary contribution of one million dollars to the Nuclear Security Fund and has established a Global Centre of Excellence for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCENEP), where more than a dozen national and international training programmes have been conducted so far.

It is expected that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be carrying a House Gift to this summit which could include adhering to the undertakings related to GCENEP and tightening measures to prevent nuclear smuggling. He could also announce an additional financial contribution to the Nuclear Security Fund.